PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — You wouldn’t think a little television ad about the U.S. Open would be the kind of thing that would upset a U.S. Open champion, but then you’re not Brooks Koepka.
The world’s top golfer and the legit most dangerous man in golf, Koepka carries more chips on his shoulder than a World Series of Poker final table. This week, it’s a U.S. Open commercial that didn’t actually show him, even though he’s the two-time defending champion.
“I actually didn’t see it for a long time,” Koepka said Tuesday morning at Pebble Beach. “A bunch of people on Twitter I think tagged me in it, in the promo. And I guess were amazed that I wasn’t in it. I just clicked on the link and saw it and watched it. Just kind of shocked. They’ve had over a year to kind of put it out. So I don’t know. Somebody probably got fired over it, or should,” he laughed.
Stacking chips of resentment
One could argue that Koepka really doesn’t need to be worrying about whether he’s in a single ad when he can see his name splashed everywhere from the trophy to the record books to the enormous banners that greet fans who walk into the course. But then, that’s par for the course — sorry — for Koepka, who’s fast adopting the Michael Jordan method of identifying an enemy and then pounding that enemy into the dirt … even if you have to trump up what exactly it is that the “enemy” did wrong.
This time it was an ad. In the past, it’s been SportsCenter ignoring his exploits, or people not recognizing him when he’s out in public, or Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee critiquing him, or media not asking to speak to him, or … you know what? It doesn’t matter, really.
The truth is, Koepka doesn’t draw the eyeballs of a Tiger Woods, or even of a Rory McIlroy or a Jordan Spieth. Why not? Well, that’s the million-dollar branding question, isn’t it? Perhaps fans aren’t connecting with Koepka’s subdued on-course behavior. Perhaps he’s not forthcoming enough with anecdotes that don’t illustrate how hard he’s got it. Perhaps it’s lingering jock rage/envy; Koepka radiates that Big Dog On Campus energy that defined high school for generations of Americans.
Whatever, it’s now a self-fulfilling, self-propelled philosophy. Koepka insists on remaining who he is, even when it’s clear that who he is isn’t resonating yet with golf fandom. Koepka keeps on stiff-arming the world, the world responds by stiff-arming Koepka, Koepka uses that as motivation to win another major, the world responds with polite applause, repeat ad infinitum.
Hey, it worked for Jordan, and so far, it’s working for Koepka, too. He’s one of the favorites heading into this weekend, and he ought to be one of the favorites at every tournament in the foreseeable future. The days of him flying under anyone’s radar are long gone.
What’s fascinating about Koepka is that the mind games seem to disappear once he gets inside the ropes. He’s cut from the old Jack Nicklaus mold: if I can see you complaining about anything prior to the tournament, I’ve already beaten you.
“Everybody has got to play the same golf course,” Koepka said about recent complaints about how the USGA sets up a golf course for the U.S. Open. “So it really doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference if you put it in the fairway and you hit every green. There’s really no problem, is there? Obviously, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. So they’re not playing good enough. If they put it in the fairway, you shouldn’t have to complain about the rough. You hit the greens and you hit it close, you shouldn’t have to complain about the greens.”
Brooks Koepka hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Monday, June 10, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP)
“Nobody wants to hear anybody’s excuse”
Before he won the PGA Championship last month at Bethpage, Koepka broke down how he disregards most of the field before the tournament even begins. He did the same thing Tuesday, carving up the field with a broadsword:
“I don’t know how many players are in the field, what is it, 150? [It’s 156.] If I do what I’m supposed to do, I know I’m going to beat over half the field,” he said. “And from there guys are going to change their game and the way they go about it. So you’re down to about 30 guys. And from there, pressure [affects] who’s going to play good. So you’re down to about a handful of guys. That’s just how I view it, how I view going into every tournament, every major. There’s always a certain amount of guys, if they play well, there’s a good chance they’re going to win. Simple as that. You just hope it’s you at the end of the week.”
The U.S. Open has become a complaint fiesta, with players griping about everything from the greens to the rough to, probably, the catering in the locker room. To Koepka, it’s all nothing but noise.
“I’ve just been never one to complain, make excuses,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. Nobody wants to hear anybody’s excuse. I find it annoying even when I play with guys and they’re dropping clubs or throwing them or complaining, like telling me how bad the golf course is or how bad this is. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s just something we’ve all got to deal with. If you play good enough, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
See, that’s exactly the kind of attitude that ought to get people on Koepka’s side. And if this year’s anything like the last two, Koepka won’t have many problems at Pebble Beach.
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