OPINION: Just what is wrong with Brooks Koepka? Over the past two days he has broken the halfway scoring record in major championships by two clear shots with astonishing rounds of 63 and 65. He said to the Tiger crowd, you can roar, but I’m gonna score, and crushed the Masters champion by 17 strokes. And yet there is something about Koepka that seems to rub people up the wrong way.
Do golf fans get so worked up because the young American is a ripped beefcake who looks like he just jogged out of an episode of Baywatch after saving some nubile inflatable from the pounding surf or is it because he says the sort of things that are supposed to disrespect the great game?
If it’s the latter, then I have a problem. What is this thing about disrespect, anyway. Half of it is completely phoney. Nick Kyrgios is supposed to disrespect the game of tennis. What a load of Slazenger balls. Have you heard the podcast he just did with New York Times writer Ben Rothenberg. Apart from the fact that Kyrgios has more “like”s in his conversation than Cristiano Ronaldo on Facebook, it’s terrific.
Kyrgios had just beaten Daniil Medvedev in a quarterfinal at the Rome Open, a match he opened with an underarm serve and nearly missed because he slept through his alarm. Come on, Nick, what’s with this underarm serve thing. It’s disrespectful.
How idiotic is that? If some geezer wants to stand two miles behind the baseline why not slip him the quick underarm serve. Do something different. Jazz it up. As Kyrgios says, “I don’t understand why I have to respect them automatically. All they do is hit a ball over the net…It’s just tennis.”
This seems to me to be an entirely normal view of the world. Kyrgios is bemused by people who “think they’re important cos they’re good at tennis.” We should all be bemused. It’s really weird. Just as weird as people thinking they’re important because they’re good at rugby. Or golf.
And then Kyrgios unloaded on Djokovic. When you read this stuff in the cold light of print, you won’t get the tone. They’re is a gentle humour in Kyrgios’s voice. He sounds like a guy we would all enjoy having a beer with. It wasn’t a rant or angry. It was, ‘Hmm, what’s up with this guy?’
If you missed it, then this is what Kyrgios said about Djokovic; “I just feel he has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked, he wants to be like Roger (Federer). He wants to be liked so much that I just can’t stand him. This whole celebration thing (when Djokovic turns to all parts of the court) is so cringeworthy.
“He’s a champion of the sport, one of the greatest we’ll ever see. Honestly I think he will get the grand slam count. I think he will pass Federer … No matter how many grand slams he wins he will never be the greatest for me simply because I’ve played him twice and I’m sorry, but if you can’t beat me, you’re not the greatest of all time.
“If you look at my day-to-day practice and how much I train and how much I put in, it’s zero compared to him. Federer will always be the greatest of all time hands down. Djokovic just rubs me the wrong way. He always says what he feels he needs to say, never speaks his opinion.
“The celebration just kills me. That’s what I’m doing the next time if I play him and I beat him. I’m doing his celebration in front of him. That’d be hilarious. Right?”
Yeah, I reckon. But let’s not forget that Djokovic used to do very funny impersonations of the top players when he was a kid and they really didn’t like it. So maybe he thought it was easier to conform. Maybe he thought it was easier to fake respect.
But give me Kyrgios any day. And that brings me back to Koepka because in an odd way he is a combination of Kyrgios and Djokovic. He gets into trouble for speaking his mind. That’s the Kyrgios part. But when he’s super good, when he wins, he just doesn’t get the love of a Tiger or a Mickelson or a Federer or a Nadal. And it grates, like it grates on Djokovic..
Before the start of the PGA Championship Koepka said that he thought he would win because he was the most confident player in the field. “I don’t see any reason why I can’t get to double digits (in major wins). What’s the point in fearing anybody.”
Koepka said of the 156 players starting out, “80 of them I’m just going to beat”. Half of the rest just won’t play well. He will, of course. Then you’re “down to about 35, some of them the pressure will get to. Just leaves you with a few more and you’ve got to beat those guys … If you just hang around good things are going to happen. I dummy it down.”
Of course Jack Nicklaus said something very similar, but that was all right because Jack said it. But Koepka. What’s he done. Well, he’s won three of the last seven majors he’s played in and also finished second at last month’s Masters. And he knows he should have won at Augusta. Tiger had two huge strokes of luck, whereas Koepka put a well-struck ball in the water when the wind shifted and caught him and a few players out and he three-putted five times.
But Koepka took it well, said how cool Tiger’s win was, really sounded like he meant it, and is now just a couple of rounds away from becoming one of the greats of the game. Maybe he already is. When he shot 63 in the opening round at Bethpage, he joined Greg Norman and Vijay Singh as the only men to have shot 63 twice in a major.
Now he has broken the all-time major halfway scoring record by two clear strokes. His last 13 rounds in major championships are 65, 63, 70, 69, 71, 66, 66, 66, 63, 69, 68, 72 and 66. That’s absurd. It’s an average of 67. Koepka can also follow up. The average score after a 63 in majors is 72.5. There is an inevitable let-down. We’re human. But Koepka has backed his 63’s with 66 and 65.
There was a telling moment as Tiger went down the stretch at Augusta. He wanted to know what Koepka was doing up ahead. No-one else, just Koepka, because Koepka is different. After Tiger won at Augusta, Padraig Harrington said, “Scary Tiger’s back.” Not to Koepka. For his whole career the opposition have prostrated themselves before Tiger. Playing in front of Tiger’s gallery, Koepka annihilated him here, on the course where Tiger won 17 years ago.
At halfway Koepka led the PGA by seven shots from Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott. Koepka can be caught. We all remember what happened to Greg Norman or even Spieth himself. But if Koepka rolls the field, what then. Nicklaus was hated when he used to beat Arnold Palmer. But he became the beloved Golden Bear.
Perhaps we just see the machine in Koepka when all we want is the magic. We want the miracle shots of Tiger or the grace of Federer, those almost spiritual moments that make the human condition seem extraordinary. It elevates us from dullness. But sooner or later nearly every great sportsmen, from McEnroe to Nicklaus, finds a way into our hearts. And so maybe Koepka will also be loved one day and America will become a nation of Brooklovers