Brooks Koepka opens PGA Championship with course record 63

Published:

Defending champion Brooks Koepka made history with a course record seven-under 63 during the first round of the 2019 PGA Championship

A 63 in a major championship is a tough feat to accomplish, let alone at the notoriously difficult Bethpage Black. But not for defending champion Brooks Koekpa, who continued his exceptional major championship form to become the first player in history to card a 63 in back-to-back PGA Championships - which was also the lowest ever opening round from a defending champion.

Not that there should have been any surprise: He finished fourth last week, was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the Masters last month, and has claimed three major championships in the last two years. Combined with the length of Bethpage Black and his unmatched ability to raise his game at the year's four biggest events, this PGA Championship was always going to set up well for Koepka. 

"I played great today," Koepka told Sky Sports. "I'm very, very pleased. The funny thing is it could have been a lot lower - probably the two par fives and missed a short one on 11.

"I'm very pleased with how I played today, putted great, and excited for the rest of the week."

If there was any question mark at all over his game coming in to the first round of the PGA Championship it would have been around his putting stats (he is ranked 93rd for SG: Putting on Tour), and during his press conference earlier in the week the World No.3 admitted "that's probably the weakest part of my game right now."

He had no such problems on Thursday, holing a forty-footer for birdie on his first hole - the testing par-four 10th - and adding his second birdie of the day from 10 feet on the 14th.

Closing out his front nine with an iron to five feet on the 18th that helped him to three-under, Koepka moved to the top of the leaderboard, and only consolidated his position from there. 

More birdies on the first and third holes moved him to five-under, and he rescued a par at the next after the first real wayward drive of the day in to the fescue. Not one to be rattled, Koepka then rolled one in from 16 feet at the 5th to move to six-under-par. 

His putter played its part once more on the ninth for a seventh birdie as he made his final stroke of the day from 33 feet to move four shots clear of the morning groups. By the end of the day, a 64 from Danny Lee reduced that lead to one. 

"My putter was hot today, I'm not going to lie," Koepka said afterwards. "It hasn't felt that good in a long time.

"When that putt went in on No. 10, that was kind of the momentum that kind of set me. But I never once thought about the course record or anything. I was just trying to shoot the best I could. Simple as. Just keep going and total them up at the end."

As it turns out, the improvements with the putter are due to a few changes he made by brining back his putting coach to improve his speed control.

"I'm not the most confident person on poa, believe it or not," he said. "I know I won Shinnecock on poa, but I haven't played on it too much. It's easier being able to tap down spike marks now, that's for sure. But we made a few changes. I brought my putting coach back for Augusta, and that was kind of the first time we really got three solid days of work in in a long time. Maybe about a year.

"And so it was nice to -- because I was doing it on my own. To have him back and just kind of touch up some speed control with getting on the same putt lab and zeroing everything out, he comes over to the house every night and we just putt downstairs in the basement and make sure everything is fine tuned and ready to go."

And exceptional though the round was, Koepka was disappointed because it could have been even better than it was.

"I mean, the one thing I didn't do is take care of the par-5s. I didn't birdie any of the par-5s. That was disappointing because I felt like you know those are holes you should be able to birdie. Definitely can reach, what is it, 4 and just hit a bad drive there. And then 13 I can get there, too, I just hit it in the bunker. And then the second hole today, my 11th hole, I missed about a five-footer. That would have been nice to shoot 60. I guess that would have been pretty good."

Asked about where he feels his game is and how he can explain his major form, Koepka was full of confidence.

"I mean, it's never been this confident," said the 29-year-old. "I think I'm still learning, understanding my game, and I've figured it out, and I think over the next few years, I'm excited for what's to come. I understand a lot more about my misses, where to hit it, and major championships I just suck it up, and you don't always have to aim at the flag like you do in regular events. Sometimes it's just about how few bogeys and doubles you make this week."

Koepka finished nine shots clear of playing partners Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, who both ended the first day at two-over-par.