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Brooks Koepka Is Here to Win Majors, Not Friends

Brooks Koepka Is Here to Win Majors, Not Friends

2020-08-07 07:00:06

SAN FRANCISCO — When Brooks Koepka teed off in the quiet calm of Thursday morning, he figured he was not just a contender, but a favorite to win the P.G.A. Championship.

All golfers ponder their chances against the field. Koepka is the one willing to do the math out loud.

“The way the golf course sets up eliminates pretty much half the guys,” Koepka said on Tuesday, with bluntness that has come to define his personality and championship play.

“And then from there, half of those guys probably won’t play well. Then from there, I feel like, mentally, I can beat them, the other half. So you’ve probably got 10 guys. That’s the way I see it.”

Koepka, 30, said he has plenty of friends at home in Florida, and he usually plays practice rounds alone on the tour. It is him against the field, and he always likes his chances.

Four of his seven career victories came at majors, a rare ratio in an era of revolving weekly tour winners. He won the 2017 and 2018 United States Opens, then finished second in 2019. He won the 2018 and 2019 P.G.A. Championships, and is trying to become the first to win three in a row since Walter Hagen won from 1924 to 1927.

In his last five starts at golf’s four majors, he has finished no worse than fourth.

Some widely known contemporaries still long for their first major championships — players like Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau. Others found major success, but have not won in several years — players like Rory McIlroy, Justin Spieth and Dustin Johnson.

Most of them get more attention than Koepka, perhaps because they better conform to the game’s traditional civility. Koepka does not soften his edges to make others more comfortable. Instead, he tweaks some of those that considered rivals — by everyone but Koepka.

Last year, when reporters suggested that Rory McIlroy was a rival, Koepka pointed out, accurately, that McIlroy had not won a major since 2014, before Koepka was a full-time member of the tour.

Early this year, DeChambeau mocked Koepka’s physique, saying he did not have any abs. Koepka posted a photograph of his four major trophies on Twitter and said DeChambeau was right. “I am 2 short of a 6 pack,” he wrote.

Koepka admits to a lesser focus during regular PGA Tour events. That much has been evident since golf restarted; nursing a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee, he has finished in the top 10 only twice. But he finished in a tie for second in the last tournament before the P.G.A. Championship, a warning to others that his favorite time of year had arrived.

“I enjoy when it gets tough,” he said on Tuesday. “I enjoy when things get complicated. There’s always disaster lurking. It’s something I enjoy, where every shot really means something.”

With one more major victory, Koepka would join the likes of Phil Mickelson, Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson, as a five-timer. Koepka wants to blow past that class. Over the winter, he set a new career goal: 10 major titles.

Only three men have reached double digits: Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (15) and Hagen (11).

The next 11 months may be telling. If all goes as scheduled, there will be seven major championships.

Despite his bold talk, Koepka has the pedigree of an underdog. He was not a junior star like many of his peers. Lightly recruited for college, he went to Florida State (and was a four-time all-American), but spent a couple of seasons grinding on a secondary tour in Europe before earning his PGA Tour card.

“No, you can always play them a little lower,” he said. “Birdie every one of them.”

Koepka has not always been cool under pressure. As a teenager, he said, he was a perfectionist in an imperfect game, undone by his temper. In college, he was subjected to a five-second rule. He had five seconds to react to a bad shot, and then move on.

It calmed him and transformed him. He eventually took it to its logical, emotion-free conclusion. Even as tournament pressures build, Koepka usually looks as comfortable as a superhero in a climactic scene.

“I don’t think — my mind goes blank,” he said earlier this week. “I kind of, I guess, blackout a little bit sometimes while we’re out there. I don’t think of any swing thoughts. Don’t think of anything.”

He only thinks he should be holding the trophy — again — when it is all over.


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