GolfPga Tour

Brooks Koepka is a winning machine, but is he underappreciated?

July 30, 2019January 6th, 2022

WE should be calling Brooks Koepka the Stealth Bomber.

The second part of that description, of course, matches the manner of his golf, the way he overpowers the course with his prodigious length from the tee. It’s also true that in the last three years he’s done much the same with the opposition, demoralising them with his relentless major championship success.

The first part of the description relates to his ability to fly under the radar. It’s less notable now, not least because this season he’s developed a knack for contriving minor controversies half-heartedly designed to rile himself into a mood for retribution, but it remains largely applicable.

Consider Royal Portrush two weeks ago. The 29-year-old had won four of the previous nine majors he had played, he had not finished outside the top two in his past four starts in them and he had a local on the bag. Sure, he garnered some attention, but it was nothing like what others would have demanded with such an outrageous log book.

Through the end of last year, he seemed to welcome this lack of notoriety, recognising that to be invited into the media centre ahead of Thursday was to be handed an unnecessary distraction.

Then, this season, Koepka surprised everyone by beginning to bite, as if he knew he needed a new challenge to keep his mind fresh. “I always feel like I’m overlooked,” he moped when defending the U.S Open before changing tone and insisting: “It doesn’t bug me. I just kind of keep doing what I’m doing, keep plugging away, kind of hide behind closed doors sometimes, which is nice, kind of the way I’d like to keep it.”

Then he contradicted his reticence by saying of a Fox Sports promo for the tournament: “I actually didn’t see it for a long time. A bunch of people on Twitter tagged me in it. I guess they were amazed that I wasn’t in it. I just clicked on the link and saw it and watched it. Just kind of shocked. They’ve had over a year to kind of put it out. Somebody probably got fired over it – or should.”

Entertainingly, no-one bought his umbrage, just as his claim that he doesn’t really practice for regular tour events was taken with a fistful of salt rather than a pinch.

At the Open he also said: “I'm over trying to get the recognition. You either like me or you don't, that's life in general. That's not anything I'm too concerned about at this moment.”

He added: “I think you always have to have a chip on your shoulder, no matter what it is. Every great athlete and every major sport always has one. You can vocalize it, you don't have to vocalize it.”

There’s a touch of pantomime villain about his act, but rather than winding up an audience of six-year-olds, Koepka is trolling fields of major championship contenders, playing with their minds.

Another possibility is that Koepka is golf’s first post-modern major winner, dispensing with the pretence and laying open the games that world class athletes play.

He’s certainly a smart enough cookie to dabble in brainy matters, aware of realities others have never come to terms with.

“There’s 156 in the field,” he said ahead of the PGA Championship. “So you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat. From there, the others, you figure about half of them won’t play well from there, so you’re down to about maybe 35.

“And then from 35, the pressure is going to get to many of them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.”

That’s pure Jack Nicklaus: cool, clever and bracingly uncomplicated.

“I kind of like blackout sometimes when we're playing,” he has said. “I'm not really thinking anything. A hole can go by and I don't know really know, nothing has really registered, which is kind of nice.”

‘Which is kind of nice’ – imagine being a player who struggles to peak for the majors reading that, having their best opponent suggest he’s accidentally found the answer.

Imagine, for example, being his friend Dustin Johnson. Koepka has played 22 majors, finished top five in ten and won four. DJ has made 42 major appearances, finished top five eight times, won just the once. It’s a yawning chasm of difference.

What of Koepka’s chances of further success in 2020?

His performances at Augusta National are trending in the right direction. He was T33 on debut in 2015, T21 a year later, T11 in 2017 and tied second this April. He’s 8/1 to win there in eight months’ time.

Can he win an Open? He dispelled notions of links frailty with top tens at St Andrews in 2015 and Royal Birkdale two years later, but suspicions lingered that his high ball flight was not ideal if the wind blew.

In finishing tied fourth at Royal Portrush, he suggested he’s far from a one trick pony. He’s 10/1 to lift the Claret Jug at Royal St Georges next July.

We must beware of hyping Koepka too much. After all, we thought Jordan Spieth had a major championship magic lantern, but when he rubs it these days no genie appears.

We must also beware of underestimating him because we might be watching one of the all-time greats – and allowing him to win a ridiculous number of majors before we fully appreciate it.