Brooks Koepka isn’t the quintessential modern sports star. The fans do not swoon over Koepka’s Hollywood frame or his considerable game. He is a midget on social media — a measure of success these days. Yet he owns five top-10 finishes and two major titles to his name, far more than many of his contemporaries on the tour. After shooting 69 in the first round of the PGA Championship, Koepka learnt that he had no interview requests.
“Not surprising,” he told his coach Claude Harmon III. “Let us get out of here.” But he came back the next day, saying, “I am going to shoot low today and everyone will want to talk to me.”
True to his word, Koepka shot 63. Through rain and interruption, he kept his focus to follow that up with a fine 66 to snatch the lead on Saturday. The world around him though seems steadfast in its refusal to acknowledge the champion his due. But Koepka is smiling, and maintaining a frightening consistency.
Since winning the US Open in 2017, Koepka hasn’t wasted any opportunity to remind us that the naysayers only serve to fuel his desire for success, as much as it is his passion for golf. At the US Open earlier this year, he was irked by the fact that pundits did not even consider him one among the 10 favourites to win at Shinnecock Hills. Koepka went on to successfully defend his crown. At the Bellerive Country Club, he seems to be working against a very similar script. With the attention firmly on Tiger Woods, defending champion Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler — Koepka enjoys a two stroke advantage over Adam Scott, at the end of 54 holes.
Woods, Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Fowler and Thomas are all within four strokes off the pace, but it is Koepka that is running the table. “You always feel like you’ve got something to prove, whether it be to yourself or somebody else,” said Koepka. “I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I’ll be nothing, working at McDonald’s, doing things like that. The whole time, you’re just trying to prove them wrong.”
What makes the Florida native such a resilient and stoic human being is cast in the furnace of his own life. An accident that broke his nose and sinus cavity as a 10-year-old brought Koepka to golf. Unwilling to dilute a summer in which he couldn’t play contact sport, Koepka turned to
the Okeeheelee Golf Course in West Palm Beach to quench his thirst for sport. And that chance introduction to golf turned addictive when he tamed his own father to end a fiveyear winning streak at the Sherbrooke Golf and Country Club. His mother’s battle with breast cancer while Koepka was in college though may have played a greater role in shaping the young man into the mighty warrior we see today. When his mother, Denise Jakows, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Koepka left school temporarily to care for her.
He, and his brother Chase, also a professional golfer, took turns to nurse their mother through chemotherapy and recovery. The experience offered him a profound perspective about life and sport. A record equalling 16-under romp at Erin Hills (2017 US Open) earned Koepka his first major title. He was tied in the lead with just six holes to play. In an incredible burst of energy, Koepka fired a hattrick of birdies from the 14th to nail a commanding fourstroke victory.
Defending the title though was a completely different ball game. Nutrition and fitness have been central to Koepka’s development as a golfer. Koepka shares a famously strong bond with Dustin Johnson, built on their shared value for eating and living healthy. The two are among the fittest athletes, let alone golfers. But the duo spare no punches while on the course. Johnson and Koepka enjoyed a share of the 54-hole lead at Shinnecock.
At three over at the start of that Sunday, the emotional baggage turned out to be the least of Koepka’s problems. He outscored his friend 68 to 70, even as Tommy Fleetwood turned into a raging bull in the final round. The Englishman shot a belligerent 63, just the sixth in major championship history. In the end, Koepka held his nerve to eke out a narrow one stroke victory.
Brooks will wake up on Sunday well rested, knowing that he has the weapons needed to work his way through a multitude of situations as he navigates another final round with his nose in front. The result might swing either way, but you can count on him to be unflinching to the last moment.
The writer is a columnist with Golfing Indian
Source: Economic Times