Koepka Leads The Race
Golfers who play at snail’s pace in the company of Brooks Koepka will know by now what to expect. Koepka might tap at his watch by way of alerting a nearby official or, if that fails to work in terms of having the offenders put on the clock, this two-time winner of both the US Open and the US PGA will slow down himself. To the point where the men in buggies have no option but to come hurrying to the scene.
Thanks not least to Koepka, other players – and officials, for that matter – have been listening to these latest slow-play pleas. Finally, the game could be up and running, as it were.
Koepka’s confidence to take matters into his own hands has come with his success – something which, in turn, is born of a mix of natural talent, a sensibly varied golfing background and, last but not least, the chip he has on his shoulder.
More than once, he has suggested that a chip is something of a necessity when you are playing competitive sport. “I think you have to have one, no matter what it’s about,” he said. “You can vocalise it or you don’t have to vocalise it.”
One of the best-known “Koepka chips” came to light when he made out that he was not getting the recognition he deserved. “I just felt like if other guys had done what I’d done it would be a bigger deal,” is how he explained it to the media.
Though that particular chip no longer motivates him as much as it did, he nonetheless felt constrained to draw attention to how a promo-commercial ahead of this year’s Canadian Open did not include any footage of him. Nor was that the only thing connected to that tournament to prompt a wistful smile… When he went to the gym one day with his friend Dustin Johnson, a woman had come across and asked if he would take a picture of her with Dustin, her favourite golfer. (Is it just possible that Johnson, who has a touch of dry humour, orchestrated that?)
It’s probably not the best thing when a chip on the shoulder starts to make its owner laugh, but that is what happened when Koepka recently revisited the story of what happened – this was before he had four majors in the bag – when he had one of his short-game sessions with Pete Cowen. The Yorkshire born-and-bred coach had been standing, grim-faced as ever, watching Koepka play a series of indifferent bunker-shots.
“What do you think?” Koepka was finally moved to ask.
“That you’ll never win a major,” returned Cowen.
“Well,” snapped Koepka, “let’s see how well you can do it.”
At that, Cowen went into the bunker and holed out at his first attempt. He repeated the feat at his second attempt.
Telling Koepka that he wouldn’t win a major was probably the best thing Cowen could have said; he would have known full well what effect it would have on his chip-bearing student..
More recently, Koepka has started to fight a small voice inside which was daring to question whether he could win as many majors as he had in mind.
The effectiveness of that is as yet unproven, because a bit of jeering from the crowd certainly played its part when he was on his way to this year’s PGA title at Bethpage.
That week, Koepka was as many as seven ahead going into the final round and the assumption was that he would have an easy day of it on the Sunday. Instead, he had four bogeys in a row from the eleventh to have that seven-hole lead cut to one by none other than Johnson. Everyone, at that point, thought that he was in the throes of the mother and father of all meltdowns.
Not only did spectators jeer – mischievously as opposed to cruelly – but shouts of “DJ, DJ” and “choke” rang through the air. Koepka could only have been hurt, but the crowd’s reaction was right up his street insofar as it helped him to refocus whilst giving him a point to prove.
He steadied the ship with a good drive at the 15th and ultimately won by two.
No-one was 100% sure whether that wobble had anything to do with how Johnson was the man at his heels…
In which connection, it is interesting go back to the WGC-HSBC Champions of 2017 when a question posed by a Chinese scribe resulted in Koepka making a fascinating fist of explaining their relationship.
The writer asked Koepka if, in the event of his coming from six shots back on the Sunday to overtake Johnson, he would worry that it might “break his friend’s heart”.
At that, Koepka made plain that it was perfectly possible to be enemies and friends at the one time. “I have no problem with breaking Dustin’s heart and he’d have no problem breaking mine. We’re great friends but it doesn’t stop us from wanting to kick each other’s butt.”
In the event, neither of them won. Justin Rose came from eight back to finish two clear of Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Koepka.
Every top player wants to have a WGC-HSBC Champions on his CV and Koepka is no exception.
That, in itself, should be enough to motivate him without any kind of chip, especially when this year’s Fed-Ex is the only WGC he has on his CV thus far.
For an ideal scenario, he’d like to win in style, with nothing in the way of slow play to interrupt the flow.