In one of the more viral quotes of the pre-game week, Brooks Koepka boasted that it’s easier to win majors than regular events. Koepka cited the pressure of a major, along with the more difficult course setups.
“Like I said, I think sometimes the majors are the easiest ones to win,” explained Koepka. “Half the people shoot themselves out of it, and mentally I know I can beat most of them, and then from there it’s those guys left, who’s going to play good and who can win.”
It was sort of a passive aggressive critique of the weekly PGA Tour tracks that are laid out for the players to “live under par.”
Whatever you think of Koepka’s thesis, he seems to be buying into it, as he opened with a course-record 7-under 63 to secure the day-one lead at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Starting on the back nine at Bethpage Black, Koepka made two birdies on his first four holes, and added a third on No. 18 to turn in 3-under 32. The Florida State long bomber added three more birdies on his first five holes going home (Nos. 1, 3, and 5), and then capped off his record-setting day with a final-hole gain to secure the marquee position atop the big leader-boards at the iconic Long Island golf course.
Amazingly, Koepka set the Black course record without a birdie on either of its par-5s.
“I didn’t take care of the par-5s, 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,” said Kopepka who made birdies on two of the par-3s.
“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.
On Friday, Koepka will once again be paired with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, who carded matching 72s.
“I mean, tomorrow is a whole new day. Get out here and stick to my normal routine and then go from there. But I’m excited about tomorrow,” said Koepka, who hit 9 of 14 fairways, and 14 of 18 greens.
New Zealander Danny Lee was one back after an impressive round of 64, three clear of England’s Tommy Fleetwood who carded a 67, which included three bogeys offset by six birdies. Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Luke List, Sung Kang, Pat Perez, and Chez Reavie were one further back at 2-under par.
An eight-player logjam rounded out the top-10 at 1-under par, including five tournament headliners in Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Dustin Johnson.
Tiger Woods opened with a 72 and stood T51.
2019 PGA Championship
First-Round Leaderboard: Top 5
Pos-Player-To Par (Score)
1. Brooks Koepka -7 (63)
2. Danny Lee -6 (64)
3. Tommy Fleetwood -3 (67)
4. Mike Lorenzo-Vera -2 (68)
4. Chez Reavie -2 (68)
4. Luke List -2 (68)
4. Sung Kang -2 (68)
4. Pat Perez -2 (68)
4. Si Woo Kim -2 (68)
Koepka’s First-Round Stats
Driving: 290.3 yards (49th)
Fairways: 9/14, 64.2% (36th)
Greens: 14/18, 77.7% (7th)
Putts/GIR: 22/1.50 (4th)
Scoring: 7 Birdies, 11 Pars
Par-3: (-2) 2 Birdies, 2 Pars
Par-4: (-5) 5 Birdies, 7 Pars
Par-5: (E) 2 Pars
What was your best shot out of the rough today? Because you hit quite a few of them, good ones.
KOEPKA: “Yeah, I would say the one on 15 was probably the best one, just because the hole is so uphill. Luckily enough, it was kind of trampled down a little bit where the fans were.
“But I mean, it still wasn’t a good lie by any means. But just to get that ball up and on to the same shelf as the pin was on, because that front little corner, left-hand corner of the green, you’ve got to go up over that ridge, and that’s an extremely slow putt. But to get it 15 feet short of the hole and get 4 there was probably the best one of the day.”