PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Brooks Koepka admits that he doesn’t know much of anything about Willie Anderson, the only man to win three consecutive titles in the 119-year history of the U.S. Open.
Even after winning his second straight U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills last season, Koepka insists he never entered Anderson’s name into Google and didn’t ask anyone anything about the man he is chasing. He saw Anderson’s name on a building in Scotland once, but that’s about it.
“I don’t know too much about him,” Koepka said Tuesday at Pebble Beach, where this week he will try to become only the second man to win three straight U.S. Open titles. “Obviously, that was a long, long time ago. What was it, a hundred years [ago]?”
Actually, it was 114 years ago when Anderson, a Scottish immigrant, won his third straight U.S. Open by erasing a five-shot deficit in the final 36 holes to win by two strokes at Myopia Hunt Club near Boston in 1905.
Koepka is one of only six players to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles since Anderson won three in a row, but none of the previous five, including Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89), won a third straight.
“I haven’t talked to anybody about going three in a row,” Koepka said. “I’m not thinking about it. I know the odds are stacked up probably even more against me now to go three in a row than to back it up. It’s hard to win the same event three times in a row. I don’t know how many times it’s even been done on the PGA Tour, let alone a major championship.”
Anderson won his first U.S. Open at Myopia in 1901, defeating Alec Smith in the first 18-hole playoff in the tournament’s history.
He won again two years later at Baltusrol’s original Old Course, beating fellow Scotsman Davey Brown in an 18-hole playoff in 1903. The next year, he won by five shots at Glen View Club near Chicago, setting a U.S. Open scoring record with a 72-hole total of 303.
Anderson finished the U.S. Open hat trick back at Myopia in 1905. Five years later, he died at age 31. His death certificate listed epilepsy as the cause.
The World Golf Hall of Fame’s description of Anderson (he was inducted in 1975) sounds a lot like Koepka: “muscular shoulders, brawny forearms and exceptionally large hands.”
If that’s not enough of a comparison, Anderson’s demeanor is described as being “modest in nature, never boasting about the level of his play, always letting his game speak for itself. For that he developed a reputation of being dour.”
“You couldn’t tell whether he was winning or losing by looking at him,” 1908 U.S. Open champion Fred McLeod once said of Anderson.
Koepka has faced the same criticism while becoming the first man to hold back-to-back U.S. Open and PGA Championship titles at the same time.
For whatever reason, he isn’t among the most popular players on the PGA Tour and is still sometimes overshadowed by stars like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, even as he keeps winning the tournaments that matter most.
On Tuesday, Koepka said he felt slighted that FOX, which is broadcasting this week’s tournament, didn’t include him in a commercial promoting the U.S. Open.
“I don’t know. You guys tell me,” Koepka said. “I wasn’t on notables after winning? There’s a couple of things where it’s just mind-boggling how — it’s like, really? Like, how do you forget that?”
Koepka said he didn’t see the FOX commercial until a few of his followers on Twitter pointed out the omission.
“I just clicked on the link and saw it and watched it,” he said. “Just kind of shocked. They’ve had over a year to kind of put it out, so I don’t know. Somebody probably got fired over it — or should.”
At last week’s RBC Canadian Open in Hamilton, Ontario, Koepka said he was working out with his trainer when a another man in the gym kept talking about how Dustin Johnson had just been there.
“I just couldn’t tell what he was doing, but it was funny [hearing] about he was working out next to Dustin and how cool it was,” Koepka said. “It was just funny. I just laughed.”
Koepka said his near-collapse in the final round of his most recent major victory, at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in May, taught him a lot. He started the final round six shots ahead, but nearly blew it with four consecutive bogeys on the back nine. He ended up beating Johnson by two.
“I watched a six-shot lead disappear very quickly,” he said. “And walking to that 15th tee you could be very upset. I could have pouted about it. I could have done a million different things.
“But instead just turned that into, ‘I’ve still got a one-shot lead. DJ has to make something happen if he wants to catch me.’ I was actually really proud of myself the way I spun that mentally.”
Even though Koepka’s distance off the tee might not be as much of an advantage at Pebble Beach, where he anticipates using his driver on only four or five holes each round, he doesn’t think the layout will level the playing field.
“I don’t know how many players are in the field, what is it, 150?” he said. “If I do what I’m supposed to do, I know I’m going to beat over half the field. And from there guys are going to change their game and the way they go about it. So you’re down to about 30 guys.
“And from there, pressure, and who’s going to play good. So you’re down to about a handful of guys. That’s just how I view it, how I view going into every tournament, every major. There’s always a certain amount of guys, if they play well, there’s a good chance they’re going to win. Simple as that. You just hope it