Brooks Koepka, fueled by slights, in contention at PGA Championship

Eamon Lynch, Golfweek
Published 3:56 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2018

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ST. LOUIS — Brooks Koepka was playing a practice round during the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla when Tom Watson approached him.

“Mind if I play a few holes with you?” asked the legend who would captain the U.S. squad at the following month’s Ryder Cup.

As they walked down the fairway, Watson turned to Koepka and asked, “So what club do you play out of?”

“Brooks goes, ‘Dude, I’m not a club pro,'” recalled Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III.

Watson asked how he got into the tournament.

“Well, I finished T-4 in the U.S. Open and I’m like 70th in the world,” Koepka replied.

Four years and two U.S. Open victories later, Koepka is still the most successful nobody in golf.

Thursday, he shot 69 in the opening round of the 100th PGA Championship. The number of interview requests he received from the news media after the round: zero.

He waited around a few minutes before saying to Harmon, “Not surprising. Let’s get out of here.”

More: Follow along as Tiger Woods looks to make a run Saturday

When he arrived at Bellerive Friday morning, he told his team, “I’m going to shoot low today and you watch, everyone will want to talk to me.”

He shot 63, tying the tournament record. Predictably enough, the interview requests followed.

It’s not the first time that Koepka has used a perceived slight as fuel. It’s not even the first time he’s done it this summer.

During the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, he was watching Golf Channel’s “Live From” highlights of the first round at his rented house. He was six back so he knew his name wasn’t going to appear on the leaderboard shown. That didn’t bother him. Then he saw a secondary graphic showing how “Notables” had fared.

He wasn’t on that one either. The defending champion wasn’t even a notable.

Koepka used that as kindling for a second-round 66 that propelled him onto the first page of the leaderboard. By Sunday he was alone at the top, the first back-to-back U.S. Open winner in almost 30 years.

“I think he just says, ‘Listen if people are going to continue to ignore me, I’m just going to continue to go out and play,'” Harmon said. “It pisses him off.”

3 wins, 2 majors

That was his mantra even in college, long before the Watson incident. He was a three-time All-American at Florida State and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open as an amateur, but he never sniffed a Walker Cup call-up.

Now 28, Koepka has three PGA Tour wins, two of which are U.S. Opens. He is the world No. 4. He’s second on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. And he’s in the mix at the PGA Championship for a potential third major victory. That part is no surprise.

Koepka is a big-game hunter. In his last dozen majors he’s finished lower than T-21 only once. Since 1997, 703 men have played seven or more rounds in major championships. Koepka is one of only five who are under par for their efforts. The others? Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.

Four guys who never want for attention.

I asked Jimmy Walker if he thinks Koepka gets a spotlight worthy of his résumé.

“I don’t think a lot of players get respect for their games out here,” he said. “The media only wants to hear from a few people.

It’s not only the media who overlook Koepka. His own colleagues on Tour did the same when he was at home with a career-threatening injury earlier this year.

“It can get a little bit lonely when you’re just sitting on the couch. I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t exercise. I really couldn’t do anything. I think only three guys texted me, and I think it was Bubba (Watson), Phil (Mickelson) and I saw D.J. quite a bit,” Koepka said earlier this week at Bellerive.

“But it just feels like you’re forgotten about quite a bit.”

‘Nobody wants to interview him’

“He’s just never been a guy who is on people’s radar,” Harmon said. “I can’t figure out what it is. If your career is defined by the majors, you’ve got a kid under the age of 30, who’s American, good looking, he’s got two U.S. Opens and nobody wants to interview him.”

Part of the reason folks are not beating down his door surely rests with his personality. He’s always professional and polite, but is so laid back that he could make a stoned hippie seem manic.

But if the perceived snubs are fuel enough to take down two majors, perhaps Koepka should hope the attention remains sparse. Golf has had many a great champion who played with a chip on their shoulder, determined to prove themselves against their enemies, real or imagined.

Koepka said as much a few days ago.

“You always feel like you’ve got something to prove, whether it be to yourself or somebody else. I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I’ll be nothing, working at McDonald’s,” he said.

“The whole time, you’re just trying to prove them wrong. Sometimes your haters, I guess, are your biggest motivators. I don’t take it personally. I’m just trying to use it as extra motivation.”

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