2019 U.S. Open

Brooks Koepka's quest for PGA history heads to 'big boy' Harding Park

koepkausa.jpg
USATSI

Brooks Koepka's quest for PGA history heads to 'big boy' Harding Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- Last June, Brooks Koepka arrived at Pebble Beach looking to make history.

With a win, he would become the first person to win three straight U.S. Opens since Willie Anderson in 1903-05. Koepka unfazed by major pressure or the weight of history, made a run at his three-peat but ultimately fell short, finishing three strokes behind eventual champion Gary Woodland. Koepka became the first golfer in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not take home the trophy. 

Ever since he notched his first major championship at the 2017 U.S. Open, Koepka has become an unstoppable force. An unrelenting beast devoted to laying waste to major championship fields. He is unbothered by the pressure of the moment. Unfazed by what his competitors throw at him.

He's golf's Godzilla.

While his first run at a major championship three-peat came up short at Pebble Beach, Koepka will have another chance come May when he looks to become the first golfer to win three straight PGA Championships since Walter Hagen won four straight in the 1920s. Koepka once again will make his run at golfing history in California when TPC Harding Park hosts the 2020 PGA Championship. 

"It would be incredible," Koepka said Monday at the 2020 PGA Championship Media Day. "Obviously you look at Walter Hagen is a name everybody knows, every golf fan knows. To even have a chance to put my name with his would be incredible and it would be super special. Coming back, obviously two-time defending, it's a different feeling, and one you want to win this year for sure.

"It's something I'm looking forward to and can't wait to get the year started."

Godzilla will reemerge from the Pacific Ocean looking to wreak havoc on a brawny golf course that has one of the most picturesque finishes in golf with the Cypress Trees vividly outlining the closing stretch along Lake Merced.

Koepka hasn't set foot at Harding Park since the WGC-Match Play in 2015.

Now golf's elite destroyer of major championship fields, he's ready for the challenge the San Francisco municipal course will present.

"It's a big boy golf course," Koepka said. "You have to be able to hit it long. It's very difficult. It's a major championship golf course. You know that. You look at -- this finish will be interesting. I think it will be a great finish. You look at the back nine there, starting on about 13, 14, it gets really interesting. You're going to see a lot of -- it will be exciting, especially if it's close on Sunday. I think those holes let up for quite a few disasters and some good golf.

"You know the rough is going to be thick. You know what you're going to get. You have to be able to hit it far and you have to be able to hit it straight. There's been a precedent on making sure accuracy is big, and you know that when you come out here."

Koepka, who spent three months rehabbing from a knee injury, now is healthy. He tied for 17th at his return to golf at the Saudi International. He struggled at Riviera Country Club this past weekend, finishing in a tie for 43rd at the Genesis Invitational.

[RELATED: Rivalry or not, Rory and Brooks destined to duel in 2020]

But the four-time major winner has become known as the robot programmed to destroy the best fields in golf and not worry about the rest. He famously quipped before the 2019 British Open that he practices before majors, but doesn't ahead of other tour events.

His focus is singular in nature.

The Olympics? Not that important. FedEx Cup? The paycheck would be nice, but otherwise ... yawn.

Majors are what legacies are built from. Koepka has amassed four since 2017 and believes he can make it to double digits as he enters his golfing prime.

He'll be ready to descend upon San Francisco in May with the sole goal of romping over the field just as he did at Bethpage Black last May.

Conquering the golf's best on the biggest stage is all that matters. Filling his trophy case with relics of major glory is the only thing that can bring golf's great titan satisfaction.

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return. 

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- When Gary Woodland awoke Sunday morning holding the 54-hole lead at the 2019 U.S. Open, he did what any other father would when he's away from his family on Father's Day: FaceTime with his wife and kid. 

Then, he received a message from his swing coach Pete Cowen. 

Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.

Leading a pack of major champions to begin the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach would be enough to rattle anyone's nerves. One look at the leaderboard to start the day and it would be easy to envision Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy or Justin Rose surpassing Woodland as he tried to win his first major championship. 

But Woodland preached the belief in himself all week. And each time it looked like he was about to give in to the pressure, he steadied himself. 

On Saturday, there was the chip-in for par at No. 12 and the 42-foot par putt at No. 14. Again, on Sunday, with Koepka charging up the leaderboard for a chance to make history by winning his third straight U.S. Open, Woodland didn't buckle. 

After a par on No. 1, he birdied the second to put some distance between himself and the hard-charging Koepka. As the day turned to twilight and the waves painted the rocks along the Pacific Coast, Woodland maintained his lead and his composure.

But Koepka and Rose would not give him the trophy.

After a bogey on No. 12, Woodland held just a one-shot lead over Koepka.

It would be a message from another special person that would get Woodland home. 

Back in January at the Waste Management Open, a video of Woodland and Special Olympian Amy Bockerstette playing the famed 16th hole went viral. 

Gary and Amy have remained in touch and have become good friends. She tweeted words of encouragement to him Saturday night and their relationship has become a special one for Woodland. 

"The only thing you can control, and I said this yesterday, the only thing I can control today is my attitude," Woodland said when asked what he's learned from Amy. "My caddie told me today when I got done that it was the best he's ever seen my attitude all week. I just try to control that because that's really all you can control. You know, Amy's attitude is phenomenal. That's something I want to teach my kids that positive energy is contagious. Life's not always going to be bells and whistles, there's going to be some bad things that happen in your life. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs but the one thing you can control is your attitude and if you do that, in the end, good things will happen. 

"Amy told me a million times when we were on that hole, 'I got this. I got this.' I told myself that a million times today. I got this."

Still leading by one shot when he stepped on the 14th tee, Woodland hammered a drive down the left side of the fairway. Instead of electing to play it safe on the Par 5, Woodland took out his 3-wood and hit his second shot to the back left of the green, giving him an easy two-putt for birdie and a two-stroke lead. 

While Rose faded down the stretch, Koepka would not. Leading by two shots with two to play and with Koepka playing the Par-5 18th, Woodland lost his tee shot on the Par-3 17th to the right. His tee shot landed at the edge of the green, some 90 feet from the hole, giving Woodland only one option to get up-and-down for what would be a championship-winning par. 

Woodland took out his 64-degree wedge, and clipped the back of the ball just perfectly. The ball landed in the middle of the green, bounced twice and rolled to within three feet of the pin. 

He laid back off the tee on 18, soaking in the walk to his coronation as a major champion. His third shot on the Par-5 18th landed 30 feet from the hole. Two putts were all that was left to major championship glory, but Woodland, as he did all week, found the bottom of the cup with one final stroke of his putter, punctuating an impressive performance at one of golf's hallowed lands. 

Two years ago, Gary and his wife Gabby were expecting twins but lost one of the children during pregnancy. Their son, Jaxson, was born prematurely but is healthy and will celebrate his second birthday next week. They are expecting twin girls in August. 

On Father's Day, Gary Woodland became a U.S. Open champion. He thought of his wife and son back home. Of his unborn daugthers. He gave his own father, the man who never let him win growing up, a huge bear hug after he secured a lifelong dream that he hopes one day his son will see. 

"Like I said, I wouldn't be here without my dad," Woodland said. "And I probably didn't realize how special it all was until I became a father. And obviously we had our struggles, and it's been documented, the losses that we've suffered. We lost a couple last year, as well. And it was tough. We thought we were done, and the identical twin girls were a surprise.

"Being a father now puts life in perspective. My whole life it's all been about trying to win. And now I'm trying to make a better life for my son than I've had. It's been a process. But today is so special from that standpoint that being a father and hopefully some day he can even see this and realize that anything is possible." 

[RELATED: Tiger makes Pebble Beach roar with final round birdie flurry]

Then, Woodland thought of Amy and her family. As he walked to the media center he FaceTimed her to celebrate his win. Her words of encouragement still hanging over his victory. 

"You got this."