Another major championship, another leaderboard with Brooks Koepka near the top. When the heat is at its hottest, Koepka’s senses sharpen, his game shines and his stats improve. He did it again Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines’ South Course, opening with a 2-under 69 to jump into a tie for fourth place as the afternoon wave teed off.
Koepka’s PGA Tour victories total reflects his improved focus in majors. He has won eight times on the PGA Tour, and four of those have been majors: The 2017 and ’18 U.S. Opens, and the 2018 and ’19 PGA Championships.
“I love it when it’s difficult. I think that’s why I do so well in the majors,” Koepka said at the recent PGA Championship, in which he finished tied for second behind Phil Mickelson at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. “I just know mentally I can grind it out.”
But how does he put himself into contention so frequently in the tournaments that matter most on what typically are some of the toughest courses the pros face all year? Simply put, Koepka drives the ball farther and more accurately, hits more greens and putts better with the big trophies on the line.
Take a look at his stats (as provided on PGATour.com) in four key categories, comparing his major victories to his yearly averages. And yes, of course it could be expected that his stats would be best in the tournaments he wins. What would not be expected is that anyone would so consistently perform best in the toughest tournaments.
In the five years since Koepka started winning majors, he has averaged hitting 56.8 percent of fairways cumulatively for each full each season on the PGA Tour.
That accuracy stat improved considerably in the four majors he won, with him hitting an average of 75.5 percent of the fairways in those four wins.
His best performance was in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where he hit 87.5 percent of the fairways. His worst performance in one of his major wins was in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he hit 57.1 percent of the fairways – which was still better than his five-year cumulative average.
In those same five PGA Tour seasons, Koepka has averaged 309.8 yards off the tee. He hit it even farther in the majors he won, averaging 319.4 yards despite what often are narrower fairways lined with taller rough in the majors.
His best distance performance in one of the major victories was 324.1 yards averaged at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive. Even his lowest distance average among his major victories – 313 yards at the 2018 PGA – is more than three yards longer than his five-year PGA Tour cumulative average.
Koepka has averaged hitting 67.3 percent of the greens cumulatively over the past five seasons on the PGA Tour. In the majors he has won, he averaged hitting 73.61 percent of the greens.
His best major performance came at the 2017 U.S. Open, where he hit 86.11 percent of the greens at Erin Hills. His worst performance in his four major titles was 68.06 percent of the greens in the 2018 U.S. Open at a very dry and bouncy Shinnecock Hills.
Koepka’s major improvements extend to the greens. In the past five years on the PGA Tour, Koepka has a 0.217 strokes gained putting average, meaning he is that much better on the greens in each round than an average Tour player.
In the majors he has won, Koepka had a 1.28 strokes gained average. That means he has been more than one stroke better per round on the greens in those four majors than he normally is, and that equates to more than four strokes over the course of a tournament. Versus the field, he has been five shots better on the greens than the average player in those four majors he has won.
For the most part, Thursday was more of the same in the first round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He hit 57 percent of the fairways with a 311.4 driving distance average, and he hit 13 of the 18 greens for 72 percent. And he was plus 3.06 in strokes gained putting. When compared to his cumulative averages over the past five PGA Tour seasons, he was better Thursday in each of those four key categories.
As the players love to say, there’s a lot of golf left to play. But it would be fair to expect Koepka to keep hitting it farther, straighter and closer, then make more putts.