When Brooks Koepka was cutting his teeth on the European Challenge Tour in 2012-13, winning major championships and becoming the No. 1 player in the world were lofty aspirations, seemingly miles away from becoming reality.
Six years later, it’s no longer a dream.
After becoming the first player in 29 years to successfully defend his U.S. Open title, Koepka became the sixth reigning U.S. Open champion to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Koepka took over the top spot from good friend and 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson following Koepka’s four-stroke victory on Sunday in the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in the Republic of Korea.
Koepka joins an illustrious list of U.S. Open champions to simultaneously occupy the No. 1 world ranking, one that began with Ernie Els’ triumph in 1997 at Congressional Country Club – he took over the week after his victory – and it continued with Tiger Woods in 2000 (and again in 2002 and 2008). Rory McIlory, the 2011 champion, ascended to the top spot early the following year, while Jordan Spieth garnered the position with his Masters and U.S. Open victories in 2015. Johnson became world No. 1 in February of last year.
“My first pro start was in Switzerland [in 2012],” said Koepka of beginning his career on the European Challenge Tour. “I don’t think I could have said six years later that I would be No. 1 in the world. I think it’s incredible.”
Don’t put it past the seemingly unfazed Koepka to produce more historic results in 2019. Next June at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, he’ll look to become just the second player to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles, and the first in the modern era. Scottish-born pro Willie Anderson won three straight titles from 1903-05.
A third U.S. Open title would also vault Koepka into rarified air, joining a group that includes Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Ben Hogan, Hale Irwin and Bob Jones. Only Nicklaus, Hogan, Jones and Anderson have won four U.S. Opens.
To accomplish the feat, Koepka will not only have to conquer a world-class field for a third consecutive year, but do so on a course that might not suit his game.
“To be honest, I don't putt that well on Poa [annua], so it will be quite interesting,” said Koepka of the putting surfaces at Pebble Beach. “I struggle reading the Poa greens. The consistency; they bounce a little bit. That's kind of why I don't play the West Coast that much; I struggle with it.
“I've played [Pebble Beach] once [in 2016]. It's an incredible golf course. You can get caught up in the views there, just looking around. I know it's a year away, but I'll be excited when we go play there … I'll be raring to go that week and hopefully defend again.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.