#AskAlan: At just 28 years old, is Brooks Koepka already a Hall of Famer?

August 14, 2018

That really was glory’s last shot. What a tournament. Let’s get to it…

Is Brooks Koepka a Hall of Famer if he never touches a club again? [email protected]

Okay, let’s say tomorrow he’s squatting 900 lbs. in the gym and tears every tendon in his body, ending his career. I think he gets in. Obviously you’d like to see more of a body of work on the PGA Tour but let us not forget that Koepka, 28, has already won tournaments in Turkey, Japan, Italy, Spain and Scotland, thanks to his formative years on the Challenge and European tours. Back-to-back U.S. Opens is no joke and then on top of that you throw in an overpowering PGA win against a glittering leaderboard. In recent years the Hall has let in Fred Couples and Tom Kite, who across long careers won only one measly major apiece. On that basis how could you keep out Koepka?

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Brooks Koepka isn’t even thirty, and he’s already got three major wins under his belt. Does that mean he’s already assured a place in the Hall of Fame?
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If DJ wins 35 times with three Grand Slam victories, and BK finishes with 15 wins and five Slams, which is a better career? -Sujeet (@sindap)

These are pretty good projections but we can do a thought-experiment based on their careers right now. Dustin has 19 career Tour wins compared to Koepka’s four. How many of Johnson’s wins can you name without looking besides the U.S. Open at Oakmont? Maybe Kapalua this year because he hit, ahem, the greatest shot in golf history. He’s won a few times at Pebble but what were those years again? Maybe Doral, maybe Mexico City, but it’s already getting difficult. Major championship victories are so indelible and so much more important in assessing a career. To win 35 events would be an incredible achievement and make Dustin one of the most prolific winners in Tour history. But it would be more impressive to win as many majors as Seve and Lord Byron and Phil the Thrill.

We’ve heard your U.S. Ryder Cup thoughts. So who do you think gets picked to round out the Euro side (assuming current top 8 guys remain)? [email protected]

The current automatic qualifiers are McIlroy, Rose, Molinari, Poulter, Fleetwood, Rahm, Noren, and Hatton. It’s a strong crew but features four rookies. Given his Ryder Cup record and overall presence, Henrik Stenson is a sure thing for a pick, even though his play in 2018 has been only so-so by his lofty standards. Paul Casey is also a lock — he’s been in fine form all season. So now we’re down to two spots. Cap. Bjorn’s biggest dilemma is what to do about Sergio Garcia, who has been a European stalwart for two decades. Quite simply, Garcia has been awful in 2018: missed cuts in 8 of his last 10 starts on the PGA Tour, including all four major championships, though Sergio is quick to point out that five of those M/Cs were by one stroke. He has always found a way to peak for the Cup — can he do it again?

The competition for his spot comes from two would-be Ryder rookies, Russell Knox and Thorbjorn Olesen, both of whom have had very strong summers, including victories on the Euro tour; Rafa Cabrero Bello, who played well as a Ryder rookie in ’16 Cup and is rounding into form with a near-miss at the Italian Open and top-10 at the PGA; and Thomas Pieters, a monster at the ’16 Cup who hasn’t won since but has suddenly gotten hot. Is Bjorn willing to put his trust in Sergio? Can he talk himself into another Ryder rookie? These are huge unknowns. I would pick Garcia and Knox but there are a number of ways Bjorn can go and it will be fascinating to see what he does.

Phil’s game is sliding, would it make more sense for him to be a vice captain? If you’re serious about winning? -Lou (@TheSlowHand)

It’s an intriguing idea. The U.S. side would still benefit from his leadership while opening up a spot for a young player. In the Task Force era there is a strong predisposition for continuity and planning for the future. Justin Thomas is the only Ryder rookie among the U.S.’s eight automatic qualifiers, though the rest of the core remains very young. But Phil finished a credible 10th in the points standings and won a marquee event this year. It’s true he’s been a non-factor all summer, but the guy has been a stalwart for the U.S. side for a quarter-century. He and Furyk are contemporaries, and everyone knows this could be Phil’s last shot to play in a Cup and win one on European soil. Is Furyk gonna be the guy to tell Phil he doesn’t deserve a spot on the team? I think not.

Do we need a 5th major later in the year in the Southern Hemisphere? Eights months to Augusta is a long time and from next year it will be even longer. #AskAlan -Aidan (@fisioterrorist)

Despite what the LPGA and some Philistines in Ponte Vedra Beach think, you can’t just invent a major. Four is an immutable number, just as when we discuss the Beatles. So, no, we don’t need another one. The buildup is good. It’s healthy. It whets the appetite and reminds us that major championships are rare and special. There is tons of good golf in the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, including the Australian and South African Opens, two tournaments with rich histories and often spectacular venues. In the late-fall there’s a WGC in China and the Race to Dubai. So golf options abound, without the cockamamie idea of trying to invent another major.

I’ve never rooted for Tiger (“Phil guy”) and even Sunday I couldn’t get behind it like, it seemed, everyone else did. I’m a Mets fan (condolences welcome) and couldn’t root for the Yanks against the D-Backs after 9/11. Does this mean I don’t have a soul? #AskAlan -Christopher (@CRDaley)

I respect your stance. There’s no doubt Tiger has emerged from the scandals and rehabs and injuries as a slightly cuddlier and definitely more peaceful soul, but that doesn’t mean you have to cheer for him. He did spend his entire prime as an imperious and unlovable figure and some folks will never get over that. But I can tell you the Sunday energy at Carnoustie and especially Bellerive was like nothing I ever experienced even when Woods was playing the most dominant golf of all time. Back then he was revered, and even induced awe, but never beloved like he is now. It will be emotional and even cathartic if he ever gets across the line, for Tiger and his legion of fans, old and new. I think you should put some money down on Tiger so you get in the habit of pulling for him. You might find you like it, as pretty much the rest of the world does.

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Tiger Woods plays his shot from the 13th tee during the final round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive.
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So the breathless TV talkers were saying Tiger’s comeback is the biggest in the history of sports. I’m not sure it’s even the biggest in golf (see: Hogan). Where do you rank it? #AskAlan -David (@Daver40)

It’s funny that golf now has, potentially, the two biggest comeback stories in all of sports. There is zero question Hogan’s physical injuries were far more severe than the back maladies Tiger has suffered. It’s not even close. But Hogan was lionized at every step of his comeback. Let us not forget Tiger has lived through the most severe public shaming in the Internet age. Just as he had put that behind him he suffered two more nightmare humiliations with the dashcam video of his DUI and his private parts going public on the world wide web. It’s impossible to overstate the damage this has done, metaphysically. And it’s hard to imagine Hogan could have survived the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle that Woods lives in. So it’s really hard to say one comeback is bigger than the other. Both are amazing.

First it’s DJ fading at Shinnecock, then Spieth at Carnoustie, now JT at Bellerive. Are we just going to have to accept that many of today’s superstars just aren’t consistent closers? [email protected]

Spieth has proven that no lead is safe but he’s also closed out three majors. Thomas’s fade on Sunday was painful but it’s his first real missed opportunity. Johnson, that’s another story — his screwups are well documented and he has only one lonely major championship win to balance them. There’s no exact science to determining a closing percentage in golf, because not all high finishes are the same. But let’s arbitrarily look at top-3s. For Big Jack’s career in the majors he had 18 wins, 19 seconds, and 9 thirds. That would be a conversion rate of 39%. Tiger: 14 wins, 7 seconds, 4 thirds, 56%.

These are the best ever, so it reasonable to assume that even a merely great player would be thrilled to convert a third of their opportunities. So it’s folly to expect any of them to be “consistent” closers. Koepka was in great position at the 2016 PGA Championship — tied for third, two strokes back heading into the final round — but he shot a ho-hum 70 and fell to a tie for 5th. That he has converted three chances in a row is remarkable but history strongly suggests he won’t be able to maintain the pace.

Are there any courses not located on the coasts that you deem worthy of your time?#AskAlan [email protected]

Tons. I wasn’t as hard on Bellerive as everyone else. There are a lot of really good holes. Among championship courses I’d give the layout a B- or solid B, which is pretty good considering all the great courses located, uh, on the coasts. The biggest problem wasn’t really Bellerive’s fault: the heat. With such scorching temperatures the greens had to be kept soft, and then rains turned the fairways marshmallowy. So it led to a boring kind of target golf. I’d love to see a Greater St. Louis Open be played there in the spring or fall when the course could be firm and fast — I think it would be a far more interesting test.

On the heels of the pandemonium of the PGA and with the Ryder Cup looming on the horizon, does anything in golf feel more brittle than the playoffs? [email protected]_TireWorld

Only Brooks’s ego.