Other than the hulking PGA Tour player with the Popeye biceps bursting from his golf shirts, the intimidating, stoic Terminator expression piercing from under the brim of his cap and the guy who’s going to win the PGA Championship Sunday at Bethpage Black, who is Brooks Koepka?
He’s a late bloomer who bravely took a different — if unorthodox — path to PGA Tour success and stardom, opting to go play from the ground up in Europe to hone his game before he made the scene in America, while his peers — Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas — went directly to the PGA Tour.
While those current stars of the game were prospering on the PGA Tour as youngsters and becoming household names in the sport, Koepka was toiling in places like Kazakhstan, Kenya and the Czech Republic.
It was in those places, where the golfers aren’t treated with the spoils of royalty like they are at every PGA Tour stop in America, where Koepka says he grew up, both as a player and a person.
Koepka, a native of Florida, is a Florida State alum, has a bother, Chase, who plays on the European Tour and is a fantastic athlete who might have excelled in another sport — perhaps baseball — had he put his mind to it. Koepka’s great uncle is former MLB shortstop Dick Groat.
There are two top attributes to Koepka, if we’re not counting his 350-yard drives and the three major championships he’s already won entering Sunday’s final round at Bethpage, where he takes a seven-shot lead to the first tee after shooting 70 on Saturday.
The first is how unafraid he is. Koepka doesn’t give a damn what you or anyone else thinks about him, and there’s something positively refreshing about that.
The second is how wonderfully unaffected he is with his golf game, never allowing psychological clutter to enter his world. Koepka has an efficient purpose to everything he does. To borrow an oft-used phrase from the Brits, he simply “gets on with it.’’
It’s difficult to argue with the results, which makes you wonder why more players don’t try to mimic his way.
Another thing that has quietly become a strong Koepka attribute is how he’s morphed from a quiet, blend-in-with-the crowd, anonymous soul on the PGA Tour to one to its most outspoken players.
Koepka has publicly taken on slow play on the Tour, calling it “embarrassing.’’ He called out Sergio Garcia after the Spaniard tore of a bunker and some greens at a tournament in Saudi Arabia, saying he was acting “like a child.’’
A show of how respected Koepka, because of his status in the game as a winner, has become was the fact Garcia sheepishly responded to the harsh words by conceding they were spot on.
Earlier this week, when asked if he has a number of major championships in mind for his career, instead of shying away from naming a number and keeping it to himself like most other players would do, Koepka matter-of-factly responded: “I don’t see why you can’t get to double digits.’’
Koepka also hasn’t been shy about calling out his critics, who fail to give him the credit and recognition he feels he deserves for the incredible run of golf he’s been on over the past couple of years.
Entering this week’s PGA, when Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said on a podcast that Koepka shouldn’t be mentioned in the same category as Tiger Woods, McIlroy and some other top players, Koepka posted a picture of Chamblee on his Twitter account with a bulbous, red clown’s nose superimposed on his face.
After Koepka scorched Bethpage Black with his opening-round 63 Thursday, Chamblee playfully posted this tweet: “I’ve been flipped off a few times in my life — probably not as often as you would think — but I felt like he was giving me the finger for 4 ½ hours today.’’
Koepka is the most dominant player in the world at the moment. If hoists the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening, as everyone expects he will, Koepka will have won four of the past eight major championships he’s played.
“I want to be the best player in the world,’’ he said in a 2015 interview when he first got onto the PGA Tour. “I’m not there yet, and I know it’s going to take time. But I want to get to that point.”
If that point hadn’t already arrived before this week, by Sunday night it will have been driven home like a nail through balsa wood.
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