BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Brooks Koepka strode down the first fairway on a humid Friday morning, one fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothing.
“It’s a great day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here,” the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”
Koepka, wearing a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale green cap in the second round of the U.S. Open, heeded the fan’s advice, rebounding from an opening round 73 to post a three-under-par 67.
That put him at even par after two rounds and in a familiar position — within striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the cut in his last seven U.S. Opens and finished no worse than tied for 18th.
Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in 2017 with a score of 16 under par, and won again in 2018, speaks almost paternalistically about the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted toward the majors — those are the only events he has played since late March — and he seems to thrive on the challenges presented by this particular tournament.
“I love this event,” he said. “This event has always been good to me.”
It’s hard to argue otherwise. Koepka is the most successful U.S. Open player of the last decade.
No one else in the 156-man field has won two U.S. Opens. The last four times he has played the tournament — he missed the Open in 2020 because of knee and hip injuries — he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place finish in 2019 and a tie for fourth in 2021, finishes that have earned Koepka more than $6 million. In those four events, only four players — Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English, have finished ahead of Koepka.
“That’s pretty cool,” Koepka said, while adding, “I wish it was less.”
He is one of only seven players to win consecutive U.S. Opens; the last to do it before Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
But given his lack of tournament play this year, it was difficult to predict how well the 32-year-old, four-time major champion — he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 — would fare. He missed the cut at the Masters. And he attributed his underwhelming performance at the PGA Championship in May — a tie for 55th — to focusing more on his upcoming wedding.
“I was waiting for that party,” he said of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.
Afterward, Koepka retreated to his home in Jupiter, Fla., worked for four days with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any talk of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.
“I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on,” he said. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I love it but at the same time, I’ve got other stuff I like to do. The wedding was a big thing. Now it’s over with and I can go and play golf.”
He became irritated with reporters at his pretournament news conference on Tuesday, chiding them for asking him and other golfers questions about the LIV Golf International series, the Saudi-financed rebel golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with enormous paydays. The tour will play its second event, one of five in the United States, near Portland, Ore., beginning on June 30.
Koepka’s star power and penchant for downtime make him an ideal target for the upstart tour, which so far has announced eight, 54-hole events with shotgun starts, no cut and huge purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who have resigned their PGA Tour membership, or been suspended from the Tour, because they joined the LIV Golf series, can still play the four major tournaments that are not run by the PGA Tour, although that could change.)
Koepka, ranked 19th in the world, also could command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have received as much as $200 million and Johnson as much as $150 million to join LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, plays on the tour.
“I’m here. I’m here at the U.S. Open,” Brooks Koepka said when asked about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. I’m tired of all this stuff.”
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
A new series. The new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what is it? Who is playing it? What’s all the hubbub, and how can you watch it? Here’s what to know:
What is LIV Golf? The series is an upstart professional golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for nearly a century.
Who is playing it? The 48 players in the initial LIV Golf event were not exactly a who’s who of golf, and many of the biggest names in the sport, such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there were big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.
What is attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The first tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That is on top of the appearance fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
How has the PGA Tour responded to the rise of LIV Golf? The PGA Tour signaled months ago that it would take action against any of its players who joined the new tour after it denied them the releases to participate in other events it requires. On June 9, it suspended the 17 PGA Tour members among the LIV Golf players.
How can I watch the new tour? Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in the United States and will be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. In the United States, this week’s tournament will be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.
Koepka got off to an inauspicious start in his favorite tournament. His first-round 73 left him at three over par and in a tie for 79th place when his day began on Friday. It matched the second-worst round he has shot over the last seven U.S. Opens. Twice, he opened with a 75. On one of those occasions, in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, he rallied to win the tournament.
In his first time playing at the Country Club, Koepka had three birdies and six bogeys, including three straight on his back nine. A similar performance in the second round would have likely left Koepka packing for home. But he would have none of it.
A long birdie putt on the difficult third hole had him one under par for the day after nine holes. It could have been even better. He missed makable birdie putts on the first, seventh and eighth holes. After a bogey on No. 10, he responded with birdies on the next two holes, and an eagle on No. 14. He missed a short putt for par on No. 15 but made par on the final three holes.
Koepka lamented what he called his poor iron play. “That’s usually the strongest part of my game,” he said. He promised a quick fix. He drove the ball superbly and served notice to the rest of the field that he planned to be around and in contention this weekend.
“I don’t come here hoping for second place,” he said. “I think if you are a good player, you want to come in here and win. That’s why everybody is teeing it up.
He continued, “Nobody has a goal of just making the cut or anything like that. I mean, I’m pretty confident, but I feel like everybody should be confident in themselves, and if you’re not — people hate confidence. That’s why people aren’t a big fan of me.”