FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Repeat after me. Do not mess with Brooks Koepka.
One, he’s built like a truck. Second, whether you’re a golf analyst, fan or scribe dishing up something he’ll perceive as a slight, you’re just adding fuel to that proverbial fire that burns within.
Hit him with a couple jabs, he’ll return with a haymaker.
“Tell me I can’t do something, and I can’t wait to prove you wrong,” Koepka has said more than a few times.
On a sunlit Thursday, proof was on the scorecard as not even big, bad Bethpage Black could get at Koepka, who busted up the 7,406-yard behemoth on Long Island in the first round of the 101st PGA Championship.
Continuing his Wanamaker Trophy supremacy, Koepka began defense of the title he won last year at Bellerive in St. Louis with a course-record, 7-under-par 63 to stamp his name at the top of the leaderboard. Without a bogey on the card, Koepka became the first in tournament history to record a 63 in consecutive years and is the only player with a pair of 63s in PGA Championship history.
“Never been this confident,” said Koepka, the world’s No. 3 who is looking to win his fourth major in his last eight starts in the four biggest events in golf.
And his score could have been lower. Just ask Tiger Woods, his playing partner.
“I think that was probably the highest score he could have shot today,” said Woods, who came home with a 72. “He left a few out there with a couple putts that he missed. But it could have easily been a couple better.”
SCORES: 101st PGA Championship
Brooks Koepka tees off on 15 during his first round at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. (Photo: Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
Koepka, whose brute strength, delicate touch and unruffled demeanor was too much for Bethpage Black, didn’t birdie either of the two par-5s. He also missed birdie chances from 5 feet on the 11th and from 6 feet on the second.
“Would have been nice to shoot 60,” he said. “That would have been pretty good.”
Koepka has been pretty good for some time now yet has been overlooked at times by many. He has taken on the underdog role on occasion and admits playing up even the slightest perceived slights on other occasions. And just stay out of his way if you really tick him off with some biting criticism.
“I’m here to do one job, and that’s play a good round of golf,” said Koepka, who doesn’t back up or back down from any confrontation. “It doesn’t bother me too much what anybody else thinks.”
Don’t let him fool you. He’s carried a chip on his massive shoulders to the first tee for a couple years now. Definitely since the Masters, where Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee called Koepka’s weight loss “reckless sabotage” for “vanity reasons.”
Chamblee also questioned Koepka’s toughness. And in a podcast, Chamblee named only Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy as players who could hang with Woods. Koepka hit back by tweeting a link to the Chamblee comments with a Photoshopped image of the analyst that included a clown nose.
If Koepka were to win come Sunday, he’d have back-to-back titles in the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. In the modern era, no player has ever held back-to-back majors concurrently. In other words, he can hang with anybody.
“He’s pretty darned good at majors,” Rickie Fowler said after his 69. “I think over the last couple years, it’s something that everyone has gotten used to.”
His colleagues started becoming accustomed to Koepka as a major force when he won the 2017 U.S. Open in Wisconsin. Then he won the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, some 60 miles east of Bethpage. And then he held off Woods at the PGA Championship last year.
Woods got him back at the Masters as he beat a trio of players including Koepka by one shot. Woods, with his fifth green jacket and 15th major, became the king of the sport again. He was the talk of New York heading into the second major of the year. The red shirt meant something again.
Earlier this week, Koepka was asked why he didn’t fear Woods.
“What’s the point in fearing anybody? We’re not fighting,” he said. “He’s not going to knock my teeth in. He’s not going to hurt me.”
No, right now, Koepka is the one putting a hurt on everyone.