PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — History doesn’t work the way we think it does, or perhaps how we think it should. No one ever makes history. He or she becomes a part of it.
Something with historic implications will unfold today in the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. It could be something grand. Should Brooks Koepka somehow erase his four-stroke deficit to Gary Woodland in the final round, he would accomplish something only one person has ever done—win three straight U.S. Open titles. Willie Anderson, a Scottish immigrant, did it 114 years ago. Anderson, who shares the championship record of four titles with three other men, didn’t know he was making history then. But he’s part of it now.
The three other four-time winners, by the way, are Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Golfing icons.
Koepka, 29, already is one of just seven players to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles, company he keeps with Jones, Hogan and most recently Curtis Strange. A victory today, and he would become just the third three-time winner of the championship, joining Tiger Woods and Hale Irwin.
That’s a lot to play for beyond the immediate glory and the $2.25 million first prize, which is nice and all, but an ephemeral reward.
He is not the only one playing for a slice of history beyond this one major title.
Woods had a chance this week to become just the third man to win two U.S. Opens at the same venue. The others were Nicklaus, at Baltusrol, and Anderson, at Myopia Hunt Club. That won’t happen, but if Graeme McDowell can channel his inner Arnold Palmer and rally from seven down, he’d accomplish that feat, having won here at Pebble Beach in 2010.
"There's a lot of great story lines this weekend," McDowell said. "It's nice to be potentially one of those stories."
There have been 22 players to collect multiple U.S. Open titles. Justin Rose, one stroke behind and playing in the final pairing with Woodland, could become the 23rd. Same for Rory McIlroy, five strokes in arrears. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen won the Open Championship in 2010. Like Koepka, he is four behind. A win makes him the 19th player to win both Opens.
As for Matt Kuchar, he could join a more exclusive club as the 12th man to capture the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in his career. Only guys like Jones, Nicklaus, Woods and Arnold Palmer are in that category.
These might seem like inconsequential or esoteric footnotes. But, again, history doesn’t work that way. An event of significance occurs, someone achieves a notable accomplishment, and he might breathe life into a figure from the past while also elevating the substance of his triumph. Adjunct achievements embellish historical relevance.
Dustin Johnson might never win another major championship. He’ll be right there with Sam Parks, Jr. Forevermore the two men are linked, regardless of whatever Johnson does the rest of his career. You see, both men won their U.S. Open titles at Oakmont, considered the ultimate test of the national championship. Other U.S. Open winners at Oakmont include Hogan, Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. And Jones won the U.S. Amateur at the venerable Pittsburgh-area venue.
Winning the U.S. Open puts an indelible mark next to anyone fortunate enough to conquer golf’s toughest test. But not every U.S. Open champion is remembered. Until something happens, and his name is conjured from the ether of time.
Some of today’s possible winners could attach themselves to figures of the past who are giants in the game. The winner today, whoever that is, will obviously enjoy many spoils. He also would join the likes of Woods, Nicklaus and Tom Watson as U.S. Open winners at Pebble Beach.
That’s the way history works.