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Positioned for another major, Koepka won't be ignored

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2018, 10:46 pm

ST. LOUIS – Hours before he tied a PGA Championship record with a second-round 63, Brooks Koepka was clearly still miffed at what had transpired the previous day. Swaggering around his rental house on Friday morning, Koepka told his team: “I bet they’re going to interview me this afternoon after I go out and shoot a low number.”  

Not a single reporter had wanted to talk with Koepka after his opening 69 at Bellerive, and he’s sadly growing accustomed to the lack of interest.

Never mind that he’s one of the game’s most complete players.

Never mind that he’s No. 4 in the world rankings.

Never mind that, at age 28, he’s the reigning, back-to-back U.S. Open champion.

“The attitude that he has in majors is that he wants to win as many of these as possible to show a lot of people how good he is,” said Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III. “But he’s the most under-the-radar major champion who is No. 4 in the world that’s ever been around.”

In this major-obsessed sport, it’s worth remembering that Koepka has more major titles than Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas and Jason Day. More than Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler, too. He has only one fewer than Jordan Spieth – and that could change as early as Sunday, with Koepka now sitting just two shots behind Gary Woodland halfway through this PGA at Bellerive.

And so it’s worth exploring whether the disrespect is real or imagined. After all, athletes in every sport search long and hard for a slight, just so they can throw a chip the size of Missouri onto their chiseled shoulders in hopes that it’ll give them an edge on game day. That’s usually not as effective in a non-contact sport, but Koepka has found himself beating back the haters since college.


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“I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I’ll be nothing, working at McDonald’s,” he said. “The whole time, you’re just trying to prove them wrong. You’re always trying to prove somebody wrong. Sometimes your haters are your biggest motivators.”

But how can there still be haters now?

Some felt that Koepka didn’t receive the proper recognition for his U.S. Open title at Erin Hills, where the wind didn’t blow and the players went low and Johnny Miller dismissed it as the Greater Milwaukee Open. If Koepka needed validation, he found it two months ago at Shinnecock, on one of America’s classic courses, on an entirely different test. He outdueled Johnson, the world No. 1, head to head, and became the first player in nearly 30 years to win consecutive U.S. Opens.

Koepka is a proven big-game hunter, the rare player with more major titles (two) than regular PGA Tour victories (one). His U.S. Open repeat extended a Grand Slam résumé that is consistent and well-rounded, with a top-15 finish in every major, and 11 total in just 19 career appearances. According to ShotLink, he’s the fifth-most under par (2 under) of any player in the majors since 1997 – and that’s after missing two majors in the past three years because of injury.

“He comes to these things with something to prove,” Harmon said, “because he wants to prove to everybody that he’s a great player, because he’s overlooked.

“The rest of the players and the caddies, they just say, ‘We don’t get it. This guy is a f------ baller. He shoots zero every time he tees it up.’ He focuses so much on the majors because he knows his career will be defined by that. It was very important for him to win before guys like Jon Rahm and Rickie and Justin Thomas, who get a lot more fanfare.”

Of course, there’s no true metric to gauge whether a player is overlooked or underrated, underappreciated or under the radar. But there are anecdotes, and Harmon has several while working 12 weeks a year as a Sky Sports analyst.

At last year’s U.S. Open, Koepka shot 68 in the first round and again didn’t receive a media request. An hour later, as they were leaving the course, Harmon received a call saying that a TV reporter wanted to interview Koepka. “We waited there for 10 minutes!” Harmon said. “You guys weren’t interested!” Three days later, Koepka won.  

Before this year’s PGA, he was summoned to the media tent for a pre-tournament news conference. The interview room here holds about a hundred people. Tiger Woods’ press gathering was standing room only; Koepka’s attracted nine PGA officials and 13 reporters.

Late Thursday afternoon, Koepka stood around his bag, waiting for a PGA media official to tap him on the shoulder and direct him to the interview area. But the request never came. Surprised, he headed to the range, hit a few balls and left.

After the first round of the U.S. Open, the defending champion didn’t make the notables page on the leaderboard. (“To not be looked at as the favorite but still defending was quite an interesting feeling, I guess you could say.”) After the first round here at PGA, there were a few TV segments on the club pros’ play, but no highlights of Koepka’s round.

“We watch all this stuff and we marvel at it,” Harmon said. “He’ll keep winning and you guys will keep ignoring him. You guys are so focused on other people.”

So why no love for the two-time major champ?

Why the disconnect between his success and the unwavering belief that he’s gone underappreciated?

It’s curious, because Koepka would appear to have the total package. He’s 28. He’s handsome. His muscles have muscles. His girlfriend is a model and actress. He oozes jock swagger. He’s hungry.


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Media apathy likely plays a significant role. Spieth and Rory Mcllroy are media darlings – eloquent speakers and gifted storytellers who so often provide compelling answers. Koepka possesses a high golf IQ, but he’s also wholly uninterested in round-by-round minutia. So by comparison, Koepka can be viewed as brusque and uncharismatic, with a demeanor that suggests a root canal without Novocain would be more enjoyable.

“His goal is to get to No. 1 in the world, but you’d never know that because he doesn’t say that, and because no one ever asks him: ‘Brooks, what are your goals long-term? What do you want to achieve?’ That’s the funny thing. I’ll always ask, ‘How was your press conference?’ And he’ll say, ‘I got a lot of questions about DJ, and that was about it.’

“If you guys would interview him and ask him real questions and probe him the way you probe the others, it’d be a different story. He’s a very interesting person. If you ask him golf-nerd questions, he’s not going to sit there and be a golf nerd, because he’s not that person. He’s never been that person. That’s not how he operates.”

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to peel back the layers of Koepka’s story, of course, because he’s not going anywhere.

Under Harmon’s watchful eye, he bashes 330-yard drives with a controlled fade. His short game is vastly improved thanks to Pete Cowen. He finished last season ranked 12th in putting.

“The way the game is played right now, he’s going to continue to have opportunities unless they change the rules of the sport,” Harmon said. “He’s just starting to scratch the surface of his ceiling. He can just do things others can’t.”

The only thing he can’t do, it seems, is get the proper credit for what he’s accomplished.

That might finally change this weekend.

A third major title, and Brooks Koepka would be awfully hard to ignore.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).


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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.


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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.


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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.