GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Just hours after an Associated Press report revealed that Brooks Koepka, out for more than three months with a left-wrist injury, would return to action at next week’s Zurich Classic, Koepka was on the range at Sage Valley Golf Club hanging out with junior golfers – posing for photos, chatting with players about golf and other common interests, and watching them hit balls.
The Junior Invitational’s annual Nike Night has brought pros such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to Sage Valley to interact with the competitors, 54 of the top juniors in the world. Koepka was this year’s special guest.
Before putting on a putting clinic, taking part in a question-and-answer session and spending more time hanging out with the teenagers, Koepka took some time to sit down with Golfweek and talk about his junior-golf memories, his advice for this generation of young players and more.
You were here at Sage Valley last year before the Masters for a Nike event. How does it feel to be back?
“It’s nice to be back, man. It’s a good spot – beautiful golf course, some cool views. It’s fun to get around and mess with these guys. I’m sure they’re enjoying it, and it’s fun to watch guys I’ll probably be playing against in six years.”
How lucky are these kids to have an opportunity like this – playing a great golf course against the best players in the world, staying on site in luxurious cottages, playing lighted golf holes at night?
“It’s amazing the opportunity that they have. They probably don’t know how sweet they have it right now. When you get older you kind of realize how cool things were. But there was nothing like this when I was playing (as a junior). You have 54 guys that are all staying right here together, they are probably all as close to being best friends, hanging around; these are guys they are going to see for the next four, five years, maybe longer. You look at all the friendships everyone has now (on Tour) and it was all built off junior golfer and things like this, being able go mess around on the dormie holes at night, goof off and have fun.”
You started playing golf when you were about 4 years old, but baseball was your biggest passion. It wasn’t until later when you started getting more serious about golf. Talk about your junior-golf journey.
“Before it was just going out with my brother and my parents, just hitting balls, kind of like a weekend fun thing, maybe go out a couple times during the week. But didn’t really get serious until I was like 15, when I realized I was pretty decent. I was actually telling some of the kids, I was like, man, I wasn’t that good. I had a lot of talent, I just couldn’t figure out how to get the ball in the hole and couldn’t figure out the right way to do it. I was kind of a late bloomer, I guess. Two kids were laughing at me; I was recruited by three schools. They were like, what? I was like, no really, I was recruited by three and that was it. A couple of places I really wanted to go to and they were like, no. So it’s funny looking back at it. I was explaining to the kids, like it doesn’t really matter. It feels like a big deal at the time, when you’re getting recruited by colleges, but as long as you keep getting better and better, that’s what I kept telling them. Man, every day get better and that’s it.”
You’re a great example of finding outlets to get away from golf when you need to unwind, whether it’s fishing or paddle boarding, or hanging with friends. What’s your advice to these juniors who may eat, sleep and breathe golf?
“I will say this. After watching kids that were older than me, my age and then kids that played with my brother, those were the kids who always seemed to get burned out, for some reason. You can pound balls until you’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting any better. Sometimes it’s nice – you forget that you want to have a life – to find hobbies outside of golf to keep you interested. It’s good for your mental health because golf will drive you crazy. It’s just a matter of getting away from it and having some fun. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a kid beating balls for 10 hours a day. I can tell you that pros don’t even do that; it doesn’t really do you any good.”
You flipped the switch in college when you started getting less frustrated and controlling your emotions on the course. A lot of junior struggle with this. What’s your advice on balancing confidence with the reality that golf is hard and you’re not going to be perfect every time?
“Like I told some of the kid today, it’s one bad round. They were saying it was hard. I was like, believe me, I get it, from what I’ve heard in the couple hours that I’ve been here, it sounds difficult and it was windy today. But one round isn’t going to make your career and one round isn’t going to end it. Just be done with it as quickly as possible, that’s one thing that I’ve learned; don’t carry it over to the next day. They say when you’re out there on the golf course, don’t let the bad hole bleed into the next hole, one bad shot bleed into the next shot. People forget about that, they’ll be out here pounding balls forever, and you want to be like, listen, you just had a bad day. Woke up, just didn’t have it today, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
A lot of PGA Tour guys are starting to host their own junior tournaments. Dustin Johnson has his in Myrtle Beach. Justin Thomas is at his right now. Is that something you want to do in the future?
“Actually we’re in the process of getting a bunch of stuff together right now, so hopefully it’ll come out here in the next year or so.”
How important is it for you to give back?
“I actually give back a lot, I’m just from the thinking that when I do something, I’m not going to have cameras around because I’m not looking for attention. If I’m donating money, I’m not going to have it publicized. I want to be doing it for the right reasons. We took a tour last year around St. Jude and that was one of the most humble things anybody can do. Taking that tour, you’re like, wow, some of these things these families have to go through. Even back home, I’m doing stuff all the time. I just don’t care to publicize it. I really enjoy giving back and seeing these things, whether it be a junior golf tournament or any kind of charity, it’s just so fulfilling to me.”