AUGUSTA, Ga. – Brooks Koepka had a unique thought running through his head as he was rattling shots around the pines on the par-5 second hole Friday morning, watching his overnight first-round Masters lead quickly disappear with a double-bogey seven.
“I don’t really care,” he said. “You’re going to be tested in a major championship one way or another, and I’ve just got to deal with whatever comes. I hit a bad shot but you just got to suck it up and just keep going on. You’ve got a lot of holes left, and you can make up some ground.”
You know how some athletes, particularly golfers, over-analyze everything, check the yardage book, think about their options, talk to their caddie, second-guess their club selection and spend so much time doing everything but not hitting a shot that you wonder if D-Day required less planning?
Koepka, the 28-year-old who has won three of the last six majors he has played, including the last two U.S. Opens, is the exact opposite of that.
When asked what he will be thinking about when he tees off late Saturday in the third round of the Masters as one of five tied for the lead, Koepka said one word: “Nothing.”
“I’ve got no thoughts,” he said. “When you have nothing to think about, it’s easy. If you start thinking about winning, that’s when you get nervous.”
Such is the intense interest surrounding the leaders of the Masters that Koepka was then asked to explain what “nothing” meant, exactly.
“I mean, I’ve been playing this game for 22, 23 years,” he replied. “Nothing is going to change overnight. I know how to play the game. I just know how to hit the ball. I know I’m going to go out there and go do what I normally do.
“Just because it’s a major on a Saturday, I’m not going to go out and do anything different. Just go tee it up, look where I want to hit it and fire at it. Nothing changes. It almost feels like you’re just hitting balls on the range. I’m not thinking about, man, if I make birdie here, this is going to happen. I think that’s when you feel pressure, when you start thinking about results. So I just don’t think about anything, and just kind of move on to the next shot.”
Koepka is an interesting character, and a controversial one. If you’ve been following the Masters this week, you probably know people are worked up about his weight loss – he has shed more than 20 pounds over the past few months – although that would seem to be entirely his business.
There are others who are distracted by his bluntness, the no-nonsense way he talks about the way he plays the game. It might appear arrogant, even standoffish.
I think there’s another word for it: Refreshing.
“I don’t know if it’s my attitude,” he said. “I just think I know I can beat a lot of people mentally. I know some people don’t think I’m mentally tough, or tough in general, but I think I am. I think I’ve proven that with three (major) trophies. I feel like no matter how things are going, whether they are going really well or really poorly out there, I can grind it out, and especially during a major. I know just to hang in there because there’s always something around the corner.”
On Friday, that something was the second hole, one of the easiest on the course. Koepka hit his drive exactly where he didn’t want to: well left of the fairway, into the pine trees. He took a whack at the ball to try to get it back to the fairway but instead hit a tree and bounced into the hazard. He took a drop, punched out of the trees, hit it on the green and two-putted.
Or, as Koepka put it: “I stayed in the trees for a while and made 7.”
He birdied the next hole, then bogeyed two of the next three holes before settling down and eventually getting three strokes back over the final 11 holes, including a nine-foot birdie putt on 18, to get to 7-under par.
“I’m proud of myself the way I hung in there,” he said. “My bounce-back stats are pretty good, and I think part of that is just because of my temperament. I never get too down, and just focus on the next one.”
Which comes Saturday, when thinking of nothing really might turn into something.