Brooks Koepka – Top Contender in Shanghai
For Brooks Koepka all the world’s a stage. Put him on a golf course anywhere you wish, in any time zone, and he will look completely at home.
For this reason the 28-year-old American will arrive in Shanghai next week as one of the favourites to win the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament over the pristine and challenging layout of Sheshan International Golf Club.
It would be fair to say that Koepka is a player made for the big time, a born winner whose physicality and technical excellence are matched by a fearsome mental strength. It is in the major championships and WGC events that a player shows his true colours, the ability to cope with intense pressure, and Koepka has proved himself one of the best.
At what is still a tender age for a professional golfer, Koepka already has three major championships to his name – two US Opens and a US PGA Championship.
In 2017, he won the first of his US Opens at Erin Hills, Wisconsin, with a record-equalling score of 16 under par for the championship and then retained his crown at Shinnecock Hills in June of this year, when he claimed victory over England’s Tommy Fleetwood by a single stroke.
Such achievements are rare indeed. Only seven players in the history of the championship have claimed back-to-back victories at the US Open, the last of them Curtis Strange, who won in 1988 and 1989.
The win at Shinnecock Hills was particularly impressive considering that Koepka had been unable to play at the Masters a month earlier as he was not fully fit after undergoing wrist surgery. That he then went on to claim his second major of the season at the US PGA Championship at Bellrive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri, spoke volumes for his resilience, particularly as he was chased to the line by a resurgent Tiger Woods.
“For some reason the majors get my attention more,” said Koepka. “Every shot is so important. You have to be patient and I always do that very well in the majors.”
One of the keys to his success is the ability to play anywhere in the world – on different layouts and different grasses. When he first turned professional, Koepka decided to learn the ropes by plying his trade in Europe, first on the second-tier Challenge Tour and then as a full member of the European Tour.
He made an immediate impact, winning three times on the Challenge Tour before claiming victory against a field packed with Europe’s top players at the Turkish Airlines Open in 2014. He finished eighth on the Race to Dubai, was named the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, and headed back to the United States and a place on the PGA Tour for 2015 in fine fettle, a force to be reckoned with.
One thing that is missing from Koepka’s portfolio is victory in a World Golf Championships event. It is surely just a matter of time before he gets that maiden title, however, and Shanghai could well be the place for it to happen.
The Far East has proved a happy hunting ground before, with wins at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan in 2016 and 2017 – the second of them by an emphatic margin of nine strokes over the field – but of more importance is Koepka’s knowledge of Sheshan International.
At the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2017, he finished joint runner-up to Justin Rose but will have felt he let potential victory slip from his grasp after splendid opening rounds of 64 and 68. He had rounds of 73 and 71 at the weekend and finished just two strokes off the lead.
Koepka is not the type of player who feels the game owes him anything. He will feel, however, that he owes it to himself to give an even better showing when he tees off in the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan. If he gets a sniff of victory, he could take some stopping.