SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods will be the player who draws the biggest crowd.
Patrick Reed will be the one sure to egg on the gallery with his histrionics.
But when the 42nd Ryder Cup begins Friday at Le Golf National, Brooks Koepka is the man most likely to come up clutch for the United States in a pressure-packed moment.
Koepka and Tony Finau will square off against Europe’s Justin Rose and Jon Rahm in the first four-ball match.
The 28-year-old Floridian has won three of the last five major championships and enters the biennial team event with a stellar resume. He could be key to Team USA ending 25 years of futility on European soil.
As a Ryder Cup rookie at Hazeltine in 2016, Koepka shook off first-tee jitters to post 3-1-0 record and the U.S ran to a 17-11 victory. A newbie in the team room no more, he’s seen his role evolve.
“I think it’s definitely a lot different than it was the first Ryder Cup, being a rookie,” the current World No. 3 said. “Now I know how things go. I definitely feel like — not that my opinion really didn’t matter in the first one, but it’s definitely more important. I’m more comfortable opening up now, too. The first one, you’re a little bit shy and you don’t want to say anything and kind of get off to the wrong start, but now I’m definitely more comfortable with the guys, especially the captains, vice-captains, because it’s been pretty much the same guys for the last few years.
“I can voice my opinion on who I think I should play with or strategy or things like that. It’s definitely gotten a lot easier.”
Now carrying a pair of U.S. Open trophies as well as a Wanamaker for his most recent major win at Bellerive in the PGA Championship on his brawny shoulders, Koepka has shown a propensity for rising to the most momentous occasions.
He broke through in the 2017 U.S. Open, carving up Erin Hills to the tune of 16 under par and a four-shot victory. He continued to grow in the 2018 Open at Shinnecock Hills, grinding out a one-shot win over chasers Tommy Fleetwood and Dustin Johnson. Then in August in St. Louis, he fended off none other than Woods for a two-shot win as overflowing galleries when gaga over the Big Cat.
Koepka may not have the mass media appeal of U.S. teammates such as Woods, Rickie Fowler or Jordan Spieth. He’s admitted to feeling a bit slighted.
Make no mistake, no one is more worthy of notice come winning time.
“I feel like I’m playing really well,” Koepka said. “I seem to get up for big events, and I shouldn’t have a problem doing that this week.”
Koepka has some history at Le Golf National. He played the French Open here in 2014 and missed the cut. That was then. This is now. Different player. Different course.
“I remember everything,” he said. “The golf course definitely doesn’t play this hard in the French Open.
“The rough’s juicy. You miss just off the fairway and everything seems to grow right into you so it’s hard to advance the ball, hard to get a good lie. Anything you can really advance to the green and then you miss it even further, you’re in the fescue and you can barely advance it there.
“So hitting fairways is a premium and you kind of position yourself from there.”
Koepka’s position coming in couldn’t be much better. He’s come a long way since sitting out 15 weeks early in the year with a wrist injury.
“Brooks loves the team atmosphere. Loves being part of the group of guys,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said. “I felt like he’s really thrived in that. “He started out the year injured, right at the top of The Ryder Cup points list and he started sliding down. He got all the way down to about seventh or eighth, and as soon as he came back out on Tour, it didn’t take long for him to get his legs under him and start playing solid and he goes on to win two major championships.
“You get a player like that, who is one of our most successful guys the last few years, and yet he’s telling the captain, he’s a team player and he’ll do whatever he wants …”
You have an ace.