PGA Tour's straight shooter: Brooks Koepka won't hold back

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

PGA Tour's straight shooter: Brooks Koepka won't hold back

PGA Tour

PGA Tour's straight shooter: Brooks Koepka won't hold back

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Brooks Koepka talks the talk and walks the walk.

And he never walks back the talk.

In a world full of professional athletes who deliver scripted, robotic answers that generally prohibit any controversial slip of the tongue, Koepka is as blunt as a jab to the face. He doesn’t shy away from any question and he certainly doesn’t do PC.

He hasn’t been wary of talking about slights, perceived or otherwise, that he has used for motivation, and he’s publicly reveled in knocking those chips off his massive shoulders.

Despite his burgeoning fame, he isn’t about to change his ways following a lightning ascent through the professionals ranks, a climb that has been accompanied by a growing spotlight. Not that Koepka cares, for the man with bulging biceps and placid composure will continue to speak his mind even if his words ruffle a few feathers.

In May he said he’s stronger physically and mentally than his colleagues, which raised a few eyebrows. While the comment caught some off guard, Koepka believes majors are the easiest tournaments to win because 80 percent of the field has no chance at victory. 

And while some in the genteel confines of golf didn’t appreciate his candidness, he’ll continue to be outspoken about slow play.

“I’m not going to be someone else just to be more popular,” Koepka said. “I’m not your typical golfer, definitely not a golf nerd. I have an athlete’s mentality, a true athlete, and if that rubs people the wrong way, tough.

“I’m just going to say what I feel, I’m going to be honest and I’m not going to hold back. That’s who I am.”

Brooks Koepka greets fans as he walks to the 17th hole during the first round of the British Open. (Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports)

Right now, he’s the best golfer on the planet and can back up saying so. He’s No. 1 in the world and a three-time winner in the 2018-19 season along with Rory McIlroy. He makes his season debut this week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Oh, yes, and then there are the majors. He has won four of them. He’s also the only player to hold back-to-back major titles concurrently. In the last five major championships, he has gone 1-T2-1-2-T4, meaning only five players have beaten him in those majors – Tiger Woods at the Masters, Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open, and Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau at the British Open.

Swing coach Claude Harmon III, who has worked with Koepka the past six years, said his man is at a stage in his career where his record allows him to have a voice.

“In the beginning, when people said Brooks didn’t say anything, well, he thought his record didn’t validate anything he’d say,” Harmon said. “Well, he’s done enough to believe his record allows him to have a voice.

“He is so deadpanned sometimes and so unbelievably confident that some people think, ‘Who the hell does this kid think he is?’ Well, right now, he’s the kid who has won four majors and is the No. 1 player in the world.

“We’ve had long conversations about this and he’s always wanted everything he did to be authentic. He’s always had a swagger out here, and people wondered who the hell does this kid think he is? What’s he won? Well, he always had that walk, the aura, of someone who is unbelievably confident. And now he has four majors and is No. 1 in the world. That’s what he’s done.”

What he isn’t doing is playing mind games with his peers. Instead, many appreciate his honesty and certainly respect the results.

“I’m not saying this in a derogatory way, but you see in all great athletes in all the sports an inner arrogance. It’s a self-belief that you have to have,” said major champion Adam Scott. “Now, if he was talking and not getting results, we’d see him in a different light. But he’s been in such a great mental state. He has so much confidence and he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and it works for him.”

Harold Varner III laughed when asked if he’s intimidated by Koepka, saying golf isn’t football and no one is going to be knocked into a coma. Koepka’s words have little impact on Varner’s state of mind.

“First of all, he’s proving he’s the best in the world,” he said. “And if you’re not thinking that, you’re not doing yourself justice. You have to think you are the best. It’s not too arrogant. He just says what people are thinking anyway.”

Brooks Koepka on the fourth hole during the second round of the PGA Championship (Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

Billy Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, said he has no problems with what comes out of Koepka’s mouth. Now, the ball coming off his clubs, that’s an altogether different matter.

“When he says he’s the strongest physically and mentally, you have to think that way to be the best player, and right now he’s the best player,” Horschel said. “I have nothing against that. To be the best, you have to think your (expletive) don’t stink. And Brooks believes in everything he does and he’s the No. 1 player in the world. I guarantee you that Tiger thought like that.

“It can come off as arrogant and cocky to certain people, but I don’t mind it at all. If you don’t like it, do something about it.”

“Brooks doesn’t play angles,” said Paul Casey, a winner of 19 professional tournaments. “He’s a straight-forward guy, focused on being the best he can be. And he’s backed up his words with impressive stuff.”

It’s just Brooks being Brooks.

“He has just enough arrogance that you need to be the best,” Harmon said. “All great players, in all sports, have it. If you ask LeBron if he’s the best player in the NBA, he’s not going to say no. If you ask Tom Brady if he’s the best in the NFL, he’s not going to say no. If you asked Tiger back in the day, he certainly wasn’t going to say no.

“Brooks believes he is the best player in the world.”

Before he started walking confidently inside the ropes on the game’s grandest stages, Koepka took an unconventional road as he traveled the Eastern Hemisphere to begin his pro career, earning his way up the ladder on the European Challenge Tour instead of relying on sponsor exemptions elsewhere. 

He won four times on the Challenge Tour and then moved to the European Tour and won the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open. He won two titles on the Japan Golf Tour in 2016 and 2017. He notched his first PGA Tour title in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

His first major title came in the 2017 U.S. Open, his second in the 2018 U.S. Open. Then he won the PGA Championship in 2018 and 2019. His latest victory was his first WGC title in the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Harmon retold a story from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where he and Koepka were talking before the final round. Harmon told Koepka not to go out and play like a guy trying to win his first major. 

Don’t play like you think you should play.

“Be Brooks,” Harmon told him. “And he was.”

And still is.

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