That Brooks Koepka had to settle for second-best in the recent PGA Tour Player of the Year ranking to Rory McIlroy won’t faze the American one bit.
The Florida-born World Number One is much more focused on the rewards from another season in which he has taken his dominance of the big tournaments up another level.
Koepka won the PGA Championship and finished second in two of the season’s three other majors, leading to speculation that a dominant era for the matter-of-fact, supremely balanced golfer could be just around the corner.
RSNG asked him to reveal the secrets of his success…
RSNG In between becoming the first golfer to win two different majors back-to-back, you had surgery on a wrist injury, one which has ended the careers of a few golfers, but you were able to come back right – how was that possible?
BROOKS KOEPKA, GOLF WORLD NO.1 ‘Yeah, I was just focused on coming back and getting healthy, rather than succumbing to it or having to change my swing. I acknowledge that I am more physical than other players and a lot stronger than some and, to add to that, I have a mental edge.’
‘So, with that in mind, I figured that what other players have ground through, I can.’
RSNG If the USGA/ R&A decide to roll the ball technology back to limit driving length, do you think that is a challenge you can overcome and turn to your advantage?
BK ‘I know there are a lot of golfers who really take the standard and grade of ball very seriously, and I can see why. You can get a five-piece ball to do a lot more than something of a lower quality, and it’s all about how the structure of that ball influences and complements your game.’
‘I am the type of player who likes the physicality of the ball and being able to get it down the fairway, or out of the rough without too much trouble. I don’t think rolling back any technology is going to affect me – it’s not like I have one part of my game that I play to.’
‘I’m a technical player as well as a physical player; and ultimately, I feel there are much bigger challenges you encounter as a golfer… the wind, the lie, even the pressure.’
‘I am all in the moment and I’m all in my moment – I don’t pay attention to anything else around me’
RSNG How do you deal with the pressure of the majors so much better than the rest of the field – is there a mental routine you use?
BK ‘When I was growing up I used to hate that phrase “you are only as good as your next shot”, but that’s actually the way I choose to play my game.’
‘The next shot is the only shot I’m thinking about. Yes, if I am on a certain hole I may be planning ahead to see how I can get it to the green, but that is strictly as far as I will go.’
‘I would never be the sort of golfer who might play safe on one hole knowing what pars are coming up and how I might then play future tees. I’m not like that – I’m all in the moment and I’m all in my moment. I don’t pay attention to anything else around me.’
‘So it’s not so much a routine – more it’s me just focusing on keeping everything internal and calm. It’s as close to my natural game that I can get – I’m not letting anything else in.’
RSNG How capable are you to diagnose swing faults mid round vs playing with what you have on the day? Is this something you and Claude work on together?
BK ‘We will analyse absolutely everything that goes on during a round, but something as integral as a swing technique is so deeply entrenched that I’m not going to start mixing it up mid-round.’
RSNG How influential has trackman data been in the shaping of your swing? Do you think the next generation that have grown up with trackman will be more capable golfers vs those that have had to use some guesswork and wasted time on the practice ground?
BK ‘I haven’t seriously used Trackman, but I don’t think any time on the practice ground is wasted, as such. I believe you are always developing, shaping, working away and figuring out what works right, and what doesn’t.’
‘Repetition is everything in this sport and I view it like a fact-finding mission where, I’m constantly solving problems.’
RSNG You don’t look as though time away from golf troubles you?
BK ‘Not really. There are those who think that when you have a length of time away from the course – not only that, but not even swinging a club in private, mainly because I physically couldn’t – and that you would begin to let the panic set in.’
‘But it wasn’t like that with me. I came back and felt as if nothing had even happened and I played just fine. Regardless of injuries, I have taken time off in the past in between PGA events – sometimes up to four weeks away from golf – and come back and finished runner-up.’
‘I’m physically fit and strong and that is a huge benefit, because it means that I don’t have to put as much time into my game. I don’t really practise that much when I am away from the course, but that’s also a factor of the wrist injury because it means that I can’t be striking golf balls hard and for a huge amount of time.’
‘What I prefer to do is take everything a little bit more serious and keep working on the mental side of the game, when I physically cannot practise or swing a club. That helps me stay in peak shape for when I enter events.’
RSNG Do you feel you have turned a corner where you are now expected to go to tournaments and win?
BK ‘I think so. I think it would be accurate to say I underachieved for a long time – that’s certainly how I feel about my career up to a point maybe towards my mid-twenties when I started to look at things a bit differently.’
‘I think there is a perception that golf is a nice sport to play and it’s very satisfying for those involved. That may be true but you are out there a long, long time, and that’s why I like to take time off.’
‘I think the issue with me was perhaps even I underestimated the commitment you need to put in. It’s not an easy life, even if the setting of a golf course is very serene and very calm. It’s a lot of time to be out there, a lot of pressure and a lot of physical strain as well.’
‘I think it took me a few years to get past the point where I was just happy to be a professional golfer. That consumed my mindset for too long, and I needed to come to the reality that that wasn’t going to be enough at the end of the day.’
‘I wanted more and I wanted to win, and once I realigned my opinions and intentions for the sport, then only then did the Majors start arriving. I think that’s very significant.’
‘I don’t really practise that much when I am away from the course – I prefer to work on the mental side of the game’
RSNG For the title win at Bellerive, what was it like playing with Tiger Woods for the first time in the final round of the tournament, and also for it to be the 100th time the PGA Championship had been staged?
BK ‘It was great playing with Tiger, especially when it was both of us in contention to win the trophy. I think the last time before that I had played with Tiger was the 2013 PGA at Oak Hill. After that, he was off for some time and I wasn’t able to get to do him quite as good as I do now. That was one of the things that I had dreamt of for a while when I was a little kid.’
‘I still do my exercises and workouts and people do have a laugh at this, but if you don’t stop working out, then you can’t get sore’
RSNG Talk us through your warm-up routine – does it change from week to week or is it something you do consistently?
BK ‘Well, it all depends on what time I am due to tee off, really. But I do get to the course about an hour-and-a-half prior to my tee-time and I would say that I wake up about three hours before I am due to play. For the 90 minutes of time before I am on the first tee, I will do about half an hour of stretching and practise my chips and putting for about an hour.’
‘Once I have finished playing, I will then go and work out in the gym. But if I am not playing until the afternoon, then I will be in the gym for about 7am. However, nothing changes with my routine times and I still pretty much do the same things.’
‘Also, I still do my exercises and workouts all of the time and people do have a laugh at this, but if you don’t stop working out, then you can’t get sore.’
‘As far as that goes, I always like the feeling when I get a little bit of soreness or fatigue and I really want to understand where the club is at and if I am too loose, then I don’t know where it is. I am far more aware of my body and where the club is nowadays and I need to know all of these things to be able to perform to my best.’
RSNG You are quite friendly on the tour with a lot of the players and you chat to each other on social media – does that friendliness ever affect you when you’re on the back nine of a major and competing against those same guys?
BK ‘I would say so, because for the whole time we are on the course we are competitive, and I don’t think that is something which will ever change. That’s what we are here for. So, for example, I am trying to beat not only the people who I speak to regularly – I have been on holiday with DJ (Dustin Johnson) – plus another 140-odd other guys.’
‘Once we have finished playing, we may very well be just back to normal in our friendship and if I can’t win that particular tournament we are playing in, then I hope he does. But when we were battling things out in the US Open and when I beat him in the PGA Championship this year, we didn’t really say too much to each other all day.’
‘We went to the gym in the morning and we were hanging out before we played, laughing and joking and having a good time. But once I get onto the course, I am ready to do my own thing and switch on. I don’t let anything else bother me when I am on the course and I am completely focused on the job in hand – which is winning.’
When you’re on holiday is there any golf involved at all?
BK** ‘No, not at all. No golf whatsoever. I just go and enjoy things, wherever I am at the time. I wouldn’t call myself obsessed with golf and we are around the game so much, that I don’t have to keep my eye in or make sure that I check out everything that’s going on.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch how Brooks Kopeka scored a record 63 in the first round at the 2019 PGA Championship.