Brooks Koepka has his eyes on the US Open prize
There is nothing more that Brooks Koepka would enjoy than to take the US Open trophy off defending champion Bryson DeChambeau at Torrey Pines this week. Yet that craving has little to do with the already infamous feud between the American pair and everything to do with what Koepka’s coach calls “his major obsession”.
Pete Cowen, Yorkshire’s great golfing guru, laughed when Telegraph Sport put to him the notion that Koepka’s beef with DeChambeau could prove a distraction at the San Diego layout.
“Will it hell,” Cowen replied. “It’s water off a duck’s back to Brooks and while others might be taking it seriously, he isn’t. No, there probably is no love lost there, but to Brooks it is mainly just banter. That’s what he is like and he enjoys taking it as well as giving it out. It’s why he gets on so well with Ricky [Elliott, his caddie] and me as well. He has a quite British sense of humour in that sense.
“And, it wouldn’t matter a jot to Brooks if the USGA did pair them together on Torrey. They’d shake hands on the first, be very cordial and Brooks would just get on with his job. It would be hyped to the hilt, but deliver nothing, certainly as far as Brooks is concerned. All he cares about is majors. It’s his obsession.”
According to Cowen, Koepka did not leave Kiawah Island last month furious with DeChambeau after The Mad Scientist had caused Koepka to enact a dramatic eye roll after walking and talking noisily behind him as he conducted a TV interview. He was not reflecting on the escalation of the spat that began two-and-a-half years ago when DeChambeau took offence at comments Koepka made about slow play. There was only one person with whom Koepka was angry.
“Himself,” Cowen said. “He was incredibly disappointed. Straight after he told me, ‘Pete, I should have p—- that’. It was that seven on the second that derailed him. If that misses the tree, he’s got a short shot on to the green.
“Yeah, there were plenty of holes to come back, but it derailed him and that’s because he went out with the attitude that he was going to win by five or six. Maybe there was too much confidence, but that’s just his mindset in the majors. In the last 14 majors he has played he has won four of them, finished second in three more and has another couple of top sixes.
“He expects to compete and expects to win when he’s in position at the majors and he was very hard on himself after Kiawah, despite the injuries and everything. I told him ‘you came second in a major when you were nowhere near 100 percent – that’s a positive.’ He wouldn’t have it, so I had to take it up a notch and tell him ‘[Jack] Nicklaus won 18 majors and came second in 19 majors. So it’s something you might have to get used to’. It’s fair to say, he didn’t exactly agree.”
How the Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau feud developed
Koepka underwent surgery on his right knee on Mar 16 to repair a dislocated kneecap and ligament damage. He was still at the beginning of rehab when he missed the cut at The Masters and, in truth, had not even reached the back straight in recovery when he showed for the year’s second major. “You could see it in the final round,” Cowen said.
“His legs started to look weaker. As they say in horse racing he was short of a run or two. He might not be completely right for another four months or so, but he has definitely improved in the last month. Don’t worry about the missed cut last week. Brooks was very honest afterwards and summed it up perfectly.”
Koepka fell two shots short at the Palmetto Championship and was candid about his regular week failings. “I don’t know, I just have a harder time focusing,” Koepka said. “Majors, I know I’m locked in from the moment I hit the first tee shot. It’s not an excuse, because I know it needs to be better. I need to be where I’m at currently, present where I actually am rather than thinking about the next week.
“But, it’s just that the energy, the excitement level isn’t there. It’s different. I thrive off that bigger stage, that big moment where there’s a bunch of fans and a tough course. I love it. I do need to figure it out, however.”
Cowen is not sure that his charge should expend too much time worrying about the anomalous stats sheets that shows that since he teed off in the 2017 US Open, he has lifted seven titles and four of them have been majors.
“It’s mad but it is the way he is,” Cowen said. “There are two Brooks – normal Brooks and major Brooks. A different guy. I remember once asking Tiger, ‘in an ideal world, how many tournaments would you play in a season?’ ‘Four,’ Tiger said, without hesitation.
“Brooks replied exactly the same when I asked him. I’m not saying that Brooks is the new Tiger, because nobody is; Tiger could bring that intensity each and every week. But in terms of the majors, Brooks might be the most similar in his attitude since Tiger came along. They are both major animals.
“Consider this. In the last three US Opens Brooks has played [he missed last year with a hip injury], he won two of them and finished second in the other. And he’s not favourite for Torrey! He’s not even second favourite. Maybe the bookies think he will be put off by all this feud stuff. What a load of nonsense.”