Back in 1974 while covering Super Bowl VIII, writer Hunter S. Thompson discovered that all he had to do to write his game story and make deadline was to take the Super Bowl article he wrote the previous year, change the losing team from “Washington Redskins” to “Minnesota Vikings,” and fax it in to Rolling Stone. The Miami Dolphins slowly strangled both teams in almost identical fashion.
Cut to this Foul Year of Our Lord 2020, and I might be able to do the exact same thing, only it will be two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka strangling a hapless rest of the PGA Championship field over a scorched earth battlefield that was formerly San Francisco’s Harding Park Golf Course, just like he did the previous two years at Bellerive and Bethpage Black.
During yesterday’s pre-tournament presser, Koepka’s eyes, hawkish and with a searing penetration, had the confident look of a predator standing over its prone and helpless prey. And his answers were no less laconic than gauntlet he threw down at his presser last year.
“I think I said it last year. The way the golf course sets up eliminates pretty much half the guys, and then from there half of those guys probably won't play well, I think is what I said,” Koepka recalled accurately. “Then from there, I feel like mentally I can beat them, the other half, so you've probably got ten guys. That's the way I see it. If I can do what I'm supposed to, then yeah, I should [win].”
Koepka’s not just trying to win his third consecutive PGA Championship this week -- a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Walter Hagen won four consecutive PGA Championships from 1924-1927. He’s not just trying to win his fifth major championship in his last 11 starts (a staggering eight of those were top eight or better). He’s trying to dominate, and, as usual, he’s trying to send a message: Catch me if you can, but I don’t think you can.
Last year at Bethpage Black he talked the talk, and then he walked the walk, opening with that blistering 63 that propelled him to a wire-to-wire victory. Koepka tied or set a slew of significant records that day: lowest round ever at Bethpage Black, lowest round ever in the PGA Championship (tied with 15 other players) and first person to ever card two 63s in the PGA Championship to name a few. A few late hiccups aside, he waltzed to victory with ease, looking downright Tiger-esque in his utter dominance and swagger.
Though recovering from a recent knee injury and surviving a milquetoast beginning to the season restart, Koepka’s game and gamesmanship are rounding into form, just in time, once again, for another major.
“The goal is to be the best player. If you're not trying to do that, then I don't know what you're doing,” he stated with a brisk matter-of-factness. “I'm not out here to just try to compete and have a good time. I'm out here to win. You know, winning means being the best and being No. 1, so that's the goal. And I enjoy it.”
Close your eyes and have someone re-read these quotes to you. It could be Tiger saying the exact same thing 15 years ago, while still in full ascension.
“That's the goal every time you set the goals for the year, to be the best player in the world," Koepka said. "I felt like I got unlucky with the knee and then wasn't swinging it right because of my knee. It happens. But also at the same time, it can make you a little hungry to go out and prove yourself, and that's where I'm at right now. My game feels like it's in really, really good shape right now. I like the way I'm hitting it, and feels -- putting it really, really well. Every day is a lot more comfortable.”
Was that Tiger or Koepka speaking? Is it 2020 or 2007? The similarities are uncanny. The remarkable ability to cycle to top performance at exactly the right time, the combination or raw power and nanometric precision, and the attitude of scorched earth dominance. As the Who sang: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Writing Koepka is getting like the bad old days of writing “Tiger Woods comma.” Stories became boiler plate: “Brooks Koepka shot a (this many) under par at (insert name of course) for a (insert number of shots) lead over (insert name of latest hapless victim) at the (insert name of tournament). Koepka blasted (insert number) drives over 400 yards, lasered his irons to (insert number of feet away form the pin) and topped out at (insert Trackman swing speed numbers no mere mortal could replicate). 'I told you I would win. No one can lay a glove on me,' boasted Koepka afterward.”
OK, I took some liberty with that last line, but Koepka is Woods 2.0, right down to the youthful pride.
“You can't lose focus, and I think that's something I'm really proud of myself - that I can always just hang in there mentally and hit the shot that I need to hit at the right time, and don't let off the gas pedal,” he surmised. “Just go out and go play golf exactly like I know how, and if I do that, then yeah, I probably should win."
Meanwhile, Hunter Thompson had so little new to write about the Miami Dolphins back in 1974, that he filled out the “10,000 words due by deadline Sunday!” with Gonzo misadventures like delivering hellfire and brimstone sermons to an entire hotel at 4:30 in the morning the night before the big game.
“All those whose name is not written in the book of life shall be cast into a lake of fire!” he fumed waking up everyone at the Houston Hyatt Regency within earshot. And that’s exactly what Brooks Koepka wants to do the field and Harding Park this week, metaphorically speaking of course. Who’s going to argue with him? You?