Brooks Koepka Has Found His Voice
Elite golfers tend to have distinct relationships with the media. Tiger Woods was famously icy in his prime, but years of scandal and injury softened him significantly. Phil Mickelson, despite a rather egregious hiccup recently, is a natural who charms journalists and fans with his affable candor. Jordan Spieth can be honest to a fault, as he acknowledged, often giving superfluous insight into his frenetic internal dialogue. Dustin Johnson never offers much. Rickie Fowler keeps things in perspective. Rory McIlroy has underrated comedic timing.
Until recently, Brooks Koepka’s conversations with media were dripping with disdain. A mutual disdain, if you ask Koepka—the media didn’t give Koepka the respect he was due for winning three majors and back-to-back U.S. Opens, he believed, so Koepka returned the favor by making it clear he doesn’t care what they think. Whether accurate or not, Koepka convinced himself that he was an underdog and used it as a source of motivation.
And then something funny happened. When it happened or why it happened, I’m not sure anyone knows. But it’s happened: Koepka is no longer the reticent brooder who constantly feels disrespected. He’s emerged as a ruthlessly honest alpha male.
The world No. 2 just passed through New York on a media tour ahead of May’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, and in true New York form, he pulled no punches. He answered sensitive questions directly and succinctly. He made no time for clichés or non-responses. He displayed a comfort with himself and his celebrity that was nowhere to be found at Erin Hills or Shinnecock or Bellerive.
He first addressed the simmering respect issue, a source of awkwardness any time he speaks with reporters, head on: “I think the respect thing is—I don't want to say blown out of proportion, that I feel like I haven't gotten the respect I deserve. The point I was trying to make was just I think if other people had done it, I think it would be a lot different.
“At times it's frustrating, but I also understand it, and I've just tried to get on with it because at the end of the day, when I'm sitting there with three major championship trophies, that's enough.”
When asked about his reported fight with Johnson after the U.S.’s embarrassing Ryder Cup defeat, he told the radio show Boomer and Gio: “I mean, if we really got in a fight, one of us would have had a black eye, I promise you.” He could have danced around the question by talking about his friendship with DJ. Nah. Might as well address it clearly.
When asked his thoughts on whether golfers are hitting the ball too far—a sensitive topic with serious implications for his equipment sponsors—he gave a decidedly un-PR answer: “There's going to be more of a separation from the long hitters to short hitters. Guys that hit it 270 are going to hit it 240. Guys that hit it long are still going to hit it 300. It really doesn't matter. It's really going to affect guys that don't hit it long, and there won't be any guys—if they change the ball, you won't see any short hitters on tour.”
When asked his thoughts by Danny Kannell on slow play, a clear issue plaguing professional tours but one that almost never results in any, you know, penalties: “Usually if you’re put on the clock, it’s because you’re slow. Guys keep being put on the clock, keep doing it and keep doing it. They’re breaking the rules but no one ever has the balls to actually penalize them. Just penalize them.”
And, finally, the spiciest of the bunch. Sergio Garcia made himself enemy No. 1 among golf fans over the weekend for deliberately damaging five greens in Saudi Arabia. Notably, though, his fellow players and the European Tour really stopped short of calling him out. Politics got in the way—players likely didn’t want to cross a Ryder Cup legend and major champion, and the European Tour can’t afford to punish one of its stars too steeply knowing Garcia can always simply give up his membership and focus on the PGA Tour. So, apart from being DQ’d from a tournament he clearly didn’t want to be at anyway, Garcia largely avoided criticism from his peers for his flagrant acts.
Enter Koepka: "That's just Sergio acting like a child. … I mean, you're 40 years old, so you've got to grow up eventually."
Koepka is only 28, but he’s done a bit of growing himself. He’s grown into himself. On the course, he carries an equanimity that contrasts his prior pettiness in the press room. The woe-is-me, I-get-no-respect routine was beneath a player of his caliber. Koepka has every reason to be deeply sure of himself: three majors as he enters his golfing prime, no shortage of income, a model girlfriend…and, it should be said, greater respect from the media.
It is good to be Brooks Koepka. It seems he’s finally realized that.