Tag Archives: Brooks Koepka

Bethpage Blues – In Defense of Brooks Koepka

Near the end of the 2015 PGA season, I wrote about the Next Triumvirate. At that time, Jordan Spieth had finished off a season in which he had won two majors and finished second in the other two. Jason Day appeared ready for superstardom after a record-setting performance in that year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and Rory McIlroy was one year removed from a season in which HE had won two majors, giving him a total of four in his short career.

It seemed for all the world like these three would be racking up majors for years to come.

2015 was also Brooks Koepka’s first full season on the PGA Tour. Unlike the others, who had been heralded as up and coming stars, Koepka was a middling collegiate player who decided to try his hand in Europe. He worked his way through the ranks of the Challenge Tour and eventually earned full European Tour privileges and won an event in Turkey in 2014. He was given some PGA Tour sponsor exemptions and earned his card – and his first tour victory in 2015 in Scottsdale amidst the crazies at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

I saw Koepka in person in 2016 at the Byron Nelson Classic, where he bulled his way into a playoff with Sergio Garcia, who, despite his sometime immature behavior, was a huge crowd favorite. On the first playoff hole, Brooks hooked his drive into the large pond that borders the 18th hole at TPC Las Colinas, which elicited a few cheers from those fans watching on the course and guaranteed a victory for Garcia.

I don’t know how much that particular incident contributed to the sizable chip that Koepka carries on his shoulder, but I’m sure it did in some fashion. By his own admission in the presser that followed his repeat victory in the PGA Championship yesterday, Koepka will find motivation in the most innocuous of slights, or even make up such episodes to motivate himself.

His relationship with the media has been somewhat contentious, as he has often felt that he hasn’t been given proper respect for his accomplishments. Golf fans in general have been slow to warm to him – he’s perceived as being robotic and emotionless (the latter of which was given a boost when a video of him blowing off a pre-final round good luck kiss from girlfriend Jena Sims went viral). And, as was pointed out in countless tweets throughout the tournament, he’s not Tiger Woods.

I’m not going to predict that Koepka will catch Woods in any victory category – he is, after all something of a late bloomer – but Tiger’s comments on Friday after catching “Brooksie’s” act (Woods still loves diminutive nicknames, even when he’s getting dusted) for two days were telling, and not a little ironic – “He’s hitting 9-iron’s and wedges where the rest of us are hitting 5 and 6 irons,”  which is pretty much what the opposition was saying about Mr Woods back in 1997.

Koepka’s recent dominance coinciding with Tiger’s apparent resurgence also recalls a time when Jack Nicklaus dared take the crown from Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus was belittled as “Fat Jack” and subjected to catcalls in his famous 1962 playoff victory over Arnie – not unlike Koepka having to endure chants of “DJ! DJ!” when Dustin Johnson was making his back nine move on Sunday. Nicklaus has always claimed that he was oblivious to the barbs hurled at him that day; Koepka stated that he used the opposition cheers as motivation.

In any event, Koepka’s mental approach is almost as impressive as his physical skills on the course. This post-round statement from him is particularly telling:

“I don’t need a sports psychologist. I’m pretty good at it. I know what I’m doing. It’s simpler than what guys think. Guys make the mistake when they get to a major…what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up, and move on.”

It sounds simple because it is simple. And I suspect that we’ll see the same next month at Pebble Beach.

In the meantime, the major victory scoreboard since I wrote about the Next Triumvirate:

Brooks Koepka – 4

Triumvirate – 1

You know – in case Brooks needs any more motivation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bethpage Blues Part 3

Day 3 of the Brooks Koepka Classic . . .

 

  • Our hero had a rather pedestrian day, carding an even par 70, but that was plenty good enough to keep a 7-shot lead over his now-closest pursuers, Luke List and Dustin Johnson. For a few moments, it appeared that we would be treated to the dizzying prospect of a Brooks/DJ final round pairing, but, alas, Johnson bogied 18, thus removing perhaps the one remaining reason for Sunday’s proceedings.
  • I kid, of course. It’s 45 degrees in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and snowing on the mountaintops. What else will I do?
  • Bethpage Black showed its teeth today. Three under par 67 was today’s low round, shot by Harold Varner III and the marvelously monikered Jazz Janewattananond from Thailand, whose surname was only attempted by Jim Nantz. The Long Island winds dried out the greens and seemed to confuse a lot of players hitting into the many elevated greens.
  • The relative lack of drama did not stop the flow of Twitter observations/humor/snark. A sampling:
    • ESPN Golf Reporter Keith Van Valkenburg commenting on the gallery at Bethpage: Here is my PGA prediction and you can bookmark it: By the end of Saturday the nasty behavior of the crowd will be come “a thing” and we’ll end up fighting about it, with allegations of snowflakes and golf snobs and Long Island jerks being lobbed about like grenades.
    • And his followup: With little drama or suspense and no Tiger, people are going to get bored and compelled to do boorish things. And it will play right into the hands of people eager to talk about how soft golfers are. It’s just a shame Sergio isn’t still here to douse the situation with gasoline.
    • And a few minutes later . . . Update: As Brooks was making his birdie on 13, a guy in the gallery was screaming at the police to arrest a CBS camera guy he claimed nearly ran over his his with a cart, and then started yelling “F all you Democrats! I’m reporting all of you.”https://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg/status/1129867258082336769

Onward and upward, lads!

Bethpage Blues – Part 2

Day 2 in the books . . .

  • After his 63 yesterday, Brooks Koepka came back to earth . . . no, wait a minute. He backed it up with a 65. Koepka did, however, manage a couple of bogies. The horror! In any case, he sits 7 shots ahead of Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, both of whom seem to have re-discovered their respective putting strokes.
  • Actually, it was Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee who relapsed after yesterday’s 64, ballooning a full 10 strokes higher to fall back to 2 under par.
  • More attention will likely be paid to Tiger Woods’ missed cut. The Big Cat just didn’t have anything going on – he consistently missed tee shots to the left and oftentimes was forced to simply punch out from the penal Bethpage Black rough. That, coupled with mediocre putting, ultimately did him in.
  • In his post round presser, Tiger seemed spent and mentioned that he hadn’t felt particularly well (which explained him not practicing on Wednesday). When asked about Koepka’s play, Woods remarked that Brooks “was hitting 9 irons into greens where the rest of us were hitting 5 or 6 irons.” Geez, Tiger, who does that remind you of?
  • Woods was not the only big name to miss the cut. Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyck, Bryson DeChambeau (who after his first round complained about the course setup), Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, and Jon Rahm are all heading home tonight.
  • Francesco Molinari, who started in the same spot as Woods, fashioned a workmanlike 68 to pull to even par and will get to play the weekend.
  • And all due credit to Rory McIlroy, who after weathering a first 9 of 40 shots (including a ghastly 6-5-6 start) came back with a 31 to make the weekend.
  • Phil (The People’s Choice) Mickelson will be around as well.
  • And Kelly Kraft, who was a last minute addition to the field when Justin Thomas scratched due to injury, made the most of his opportunity, firing a 65 and winding up in a tie for 4th place going into the weekend.
  • A tradition of the PGA Championship is that 20 PGA Club professionals can qualify to play in it. Three of them made the cut, led by Marty Jertson, who carded solid rounds of 71 and 69 to place himself comfortably inside the cut line. Jertson is on the Ping staff, and designed the driver that he is using for this tournament.
  • For a while, it appeared that Dustin Johnson was going to pressure his friend and workout partner Koepka, but much like yesterday, DJ, despite solid tee to green play, suffered from balky putting.
  • Speaking of putting – I have no real data to back this up, but I am hard pressed to remember a tournament where so many makeable putts have been misread – and in most cases, overread. The one respite on the Black is that the greens tend to be relatively benign, but time and again I’ve watched players miss shorter putts on the high side.
  • There was a little comic “relief “ courtesy of Jon Rahm . . .

  • Onward and upward, lads!

Bethpage Blues – Part 1

Day One in the books ….

  • I did pick Brooks Koepka to win, but I didn’t see a 63 coming from him – or from anyone else from that matter. Koepka had maybe two loose shots during his round and made virtually every putt in sight. He and the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee have been engaged in what passes for a “fued” in the golf world – Brooks took umbrage at Chamblee’s statement that “only Dustin Johnson and Rory can challenge Tiger.” Chamblee later said that he felt like Koepka was “giving me the finger” during his round.
  • Perhaps a bigger surprise than Koepka’s round was the 64 carded by my old Dallas neighbor, Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee. Lee, who after winning the Greenbriar a few years back, celebrated receiving his winner’s check by lamenting that he had no girlfriend with whom to share his happiness. Fellow Tour regulars Ricky Fowler and Pat Perez had a field day with this news. Happily, Danny eventually found true love.
  • Tiger, as has been his wont lately, started slowly by carding a double bogey on his first hole (the 10th) while Koepka was chipping in for birdie. He did not lack for opportunities but could not buy a putt. He finds himself 9 shots behind Brooks after an opening round 72.
  • 16 players are in red figures, including Tommy Fleetwood (-3), last week’s winner in Dallas, Sung Kang (-2), and a slew of folks at -1 including the afore mentioned Johnson (struck it well, couldn’t buy a putt), Jordan Spieth (I hate invoking Dick Vitale, but it was a “real Dow Jones-er, baby!”), past champion Jason Day (who after his round inquired if Koepka had accidentally played one of the other 4 courses at Bethpage), and The People’s Choice, Phil Mickelson.
  • Those who claimed that John Daly was receiving an unfair advantage for being given an exemption to use a cart due to knee issues can be comforted by the fact that he currently sits in a tie for 112th place and, barring a miracle medical procedure, will be slamming his trunk after tomorrow’s round.
  • I watched most of the Koepka/Woods/Francesco Molinari group online (Frankie Red Sauce* may be outmatched by the Black; he, like Woods, carded a two-over 72). I don’t know who the announcers were but referring to Koepka as a “robot” became tiresome rather quickly.
  • Friday’s forecast calls for 15-25 mph winds. Have fun, guys!

 

*Credit to Scott Van Pelt

The Big Cat Redux

I really want to write about how a resolute Brooks Koepka overpowered Bellrieve CC in St Louis this past weekend to win the 100th PGA Championship, his second major victory this season and his third in two years.

I wish I could expand on how Koepka has translated his pure athleticism into perhaps the most powerful and accurate swing in all of golf, and how unflappable and stoic he remained in the midst of one of the wildest on course atmospheres in modern golf history.

And I’d love to delve into what drives Brooks Koepka; how he carries a chip – hell, an entire tree limb – on his shoulder whenever he tees it up, as he continues to generally be overlooked or ignored as a force with which to be reckoned in the golfing world.

While I’m at it – Adam Scott’s brave effort, driven in part by the death of fellow Aussie golfer and friend Jarred Lyle, perhaps deserves an entry of its own.

But no – there’s really only one story to write about this year’s PGA. It’s been the story of this golf season, and one that may or may not be over. But damn . . .

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I had read a lot of Tiger Woods’s exploits as a youth golfer, but the first time I saw him tee it up was at the 1994 US Amateur. It was played at Sawgrass that year; his opponent in the finals was Trip Kuehne, an accomplished player from one of the first families of American golf. Tiger was a skinny teenager clad in shorts and a wide-brimmed straw hat that day. The most vivid memory I have of that match, one from which Woods came back from a 5 stroke deficient with 12 to play, was his uncanny ability to recover from what looked to be inescapable situations on Pete Dye’s torture track of a golf course.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when Woods shot a three-under par 32 on the front side of Bellrieve despite not hitting a single fairway. In many ways, it was vintage Tiger, replete with helicopter follow-through swings when he needed to work the ball, early strides to the hole when he just knew the ball was going to drop, and, of course, several patented fist pumps, including a final hole birdie that sent the record-breaking number of St Louis spectators into delirium.

The only thing missing was Tiger’s name being engraved on the Wanamaker for a 5th time, but unlike in the past (and to paraphrase his own words), second place this time definitely did not suck. His final round 64 was the best he ever shot in the final round of a major, the smile he wore in congratulating Koepka was genuine, and his post-tournament presser was as reflective as any of us have heard from him.

I count myself among those who thought that Woods could not make his way back this far into golfing relevance. Part of it was driven from the empirical evidence of his physical condition and play from previous comeback attempts. I’ll also admit to a strong dislike of what I saw as arrogance toward media and his own fans, and behavior on the course that was excused as “intensity” while condemned when displayed by others.

The fallout from the infamous Thanksgiving fire-hydrant incident was seen as an appropriate comeuppance by his detractors (myself included), although in retrospect, his “sins” pale in comparison to those of two other icons who fell at that time, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong. Nonetheless, as Woods receded and new faces emerged, it seemed evident to me that golf was ready for the next era.

And it may well be. The talent level in golf has never been higher or more competitive, not only in America but around the world. What makes it special is that the guy who inspired it all is back in the mix. At this point, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not Tiger wins another tournament (although if he does, it will likely shut down all social media).

The fact is, much like that 1994 US Amateur, Tiger hasn’t just punched out of the trees; he’s pulled off what looked to be impossible. Yeah, I’m on board. Pass the crow, I’ll eat it.