PGA Championship

If it’s a major, it’s a given this guy is near the top of the leaderboard

Beginning with last year’s U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka has three top-10 and two top-15 finishes in five majors appearances. He shot a 3-under-par 68 on Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club.
Beginning with last year’s U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka has three top-10 and two top-15 finishes in five majors appearances. He shot a 3-under-par 68 on Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It’s another major and Brooks Koepka again is near the top of the leaderboard.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat?

Koepka overcame lightning-fast greens and a wayward tee shot that struck a marshal to shoot a 3-under 68 on Thursday at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club. Koepka is part of a group of golfers sitting one stroke behind first-round leaders Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner.

Koepka won the U.S. Open in record fashion in June at Erin Hills, then finished in a tie for sixth at the British Open last month at Royal Birkdale. Beginning with last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.), Koepka has three top-10 and two top-15 finishes in five majors appearances.

The muscle-bound Floridian put himself in a good starting position at Quail by driving well, avoiding mistakes and not over-thinking things.

“Sometimes it’s a lot simpler than people think. I think people kind of psyche themselves out quite a bit in a major, put too much pressure on themselves,” Koepka said. “It’s the same game I’ve been playing for 23, 24 years. All you’ve got to do is put the ball in the hole and move on.”

Koepka played in one of the day’s premiere groupings with Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth, who won the British in July and is looking to complete a career grand slam this week.

Koepka was the only one of the three to break par, but it didn’t come easy.

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Brooks Koepka shot a 3-under-par 68 on Thursday at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Despite hitting 10 of 14 fairways and averaging 314 yards off the tee on what he called Quail’s “bomber’s paradise,” Koepka struggled with his putter on greens he thought were borderline “unplayable” because of their speed and pin placements.

Starting on the back nine, Koepka began his round by missing a 4-foot birdie on No. 10, which he thought exemplified his day.

“Wasn’t exactly comfortable on the greens,” he said. “I don’t know what that was.”

Although later he expanded on the speed of the greens.

“With some of the pin locations, these greens are the fastest greens I’ve ever played,” Koepka said. “And the thing is, they are only going to get faster and firmer.”

One of Koepka’s few errant tee shots came at the par-4 16th, where he drove right of the fairway and hit a marshal in the head. The man went to the ground and had a bloodied hat, but he was in good spirits by the time Koepka approached him.

“He was laughing and joking when I was up there, kept telling me, ‘You got a good break.’ I was like, ‘Well, still feel like crap,’ ” Koepka said. “But yeah, I got his information so I’ll probably reach out to him and see how he’s doing. I’m sure he’s going to have quite a big headache.”

Koepka signed a glove for the marshal and then proceeded to make bogey at 16, one of only two on his card all day.

Koepka finished his first round on a roll, with birdies at Nos. 5, 7 and 8.

But it’s what Koepka didn’t have on his card that again was the key to his success.

“All I can say is I try not to make a double-bogey. That’s kind of my goal in a major,” he said. “I feel like it takes one hole to recover from a bogey and it takes two to come back from a double.

“You’re not going to make many birdies in a major championship. So you need to stay patient and try to give yourself good looks.”

With one round in the books at Quail, Koepka again is looking good in a major.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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