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Brooks Koepka going for three-peat in U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka reacts after he sinks his putt

Brooks Koepka reacts after he sinks his putt on the 18th hole to win the PGA golf Championship at Bethpage Black on May 19. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

“Two” is the figure that makes Brooks Koepka one of a kind. He has won the past two U.S. Opens and the past two PGA Championships, making him the only golfer in history to hold two back-to-back major titles at the same time. Not to mention that he has won two majors on Long Island within 11 months, the PGA at Bethpage still fresh in memory

Now, though, “three” looms as the real magic number. He goes to Pebble Beach this week with a shot at winning a third consecutive U.S. Open, a feat accomplished only once and never in the past 114 years. Koepka has the chance to match the man who completed the hat trick in 1905, Willie Anderson.

“The name has come up quite a bit in the last year,” Koepka said this week at the RBC Canadian Open. “I know what I’m chasing and trying to accomplish.”

Koepka will try to do what he did last June at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, which is successfully defend the golf title that generally is considered the toughest to win. He will attempt it at the 119th U.S. Open, which figures to have numerous lively plot lines: Tiger Woods seeking to regain the form that won the Masters before he missed the cut at Bethpage, Phil Mickelson shooting for the one tantalizing major that has eluded him in his quest for the career Grand Slam, Pebble Beach serving as a strikingly scenic setting.

But nothing will carry the same historical freight as Koepka’s opportunity for a three-peat.

“You can put some outside pressure on…It’s a major championship, I’ll be up for it, I know that. I enjoy a tough test of golf and that’s what you’re going to get in a U.S. Open.  You know that going in. I enjoy it. It’s fun for me to get on those big stages and try to win,” he said, adding that he had not picked up a club between No. 18 on the Black Course and a practice round Tuesday in Canada.

“There’s no pressure. I know that the odds are against me to win it. Every time (in a major), you’ve got 144 guys or 150 guys, whatever it is. There are a lot of people who can win that golf tournament. You’ve just got to go out and take care of business. If you don’t, well, I gave it my all.”

It is not coincidence that before Koepka did it last year, no one had won even two U.S. Opens in a row since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 (and that no one had done it before that since Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951). The tournament is designed as a grueling beast, with setups so difficult that many golfers believe them to be unfair.

“Whatever they’re doing, it’s working for me. I don’t care what they do. We’ve all got to play the same golf course, it doesn’t matter,” Koepka said. “Guys like to complain. I just don’t complain. We’ve all got to play it, we’ve all got to deal with the same issues. If you hit the fairway, you hit every green, you’re not going to run into any problems.”

This week will summon the memory of Anderson, an immigrant from Scotland, who won four of five U.S. Opens from 1901 through 1905 — he finished fifth in 1902 at Garden City Golf Club.

His official biography in the World Golf Hall of Fame mentioned that Anderson also was a four-time winner of the Western Open, which was considered a major in his day. Alex Smith, who finished second to him in two U.S. Opens, is quoted as saying, “Most likely, had he lived longer, Willie would have set a record for Open championships that would never be beaten.”

Anderson died in 1910 at the age of 31. The official cause of death was epilepsy. He left behind a singular U.S. Open legacy, his three straight titles. The way Koepka has been playing, winning four of the past eight majors, he might be able to say, “that makes two of us.”

Koepka is aware of history, Anderson’s and Woods’ record 15-stroke winning margin at Pebble Beach in 2000. “It’s impressive, to build that big of a lead and stay there, keep pushing,” Koepka said, mindful that he lost all but one shot of his six-stroke lead on the back nine at Bethpage last month. “It’s not as easy to extend that to 10 or eight as people might think. You’re like 'Ah I made a bogey, I’ve got some wiggle room there.’ Hopefully I can get a lead again and not dwindle it down to the last few holes.”

Regardless of how this week turns out, he will have a chance in the 2026 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills to three-peat in Long Island majors.

FIRST CLASS

Brooks Koepka's PGA Tour titles

Total

2015 Phoenix Open 269

2017 U.S. Open 272

2018. U.S. Open 281

2018 PGA 264

2018 CJ Cup 267

2019 PGA 272

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