Brooks Koepka had a good week.
But it wasn’t a great week. Not by Koepka’s standards, at least.
“It was all right. Nothing special,” Koepka said. “I didn’t think play great; didn’t play poorly either. It was just kind of average golf.”
It was, of course, not average golf. Koepka shot a final-round 65 at TPC River Highlands to finish 10 under, T5 at the Travelers Championship, three shots outside the mega-playoff between Harris English and Kramer Hickok.
But Koepka’s real issue, he says, is continuing to perform in between major championship starts. He entered last week’s U.S. Open in mediocre form and then contended, finishing T4. A week later? He didn’t feel the same juice and never got himself in the mix to have a chance at winning.
It’s not the knee. Koepka said. After three weeks in a row, his injured leg is swollen but relatively painless, which is encouraging.
“Yeah, better than I thought it would, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “It’s definitely a lot more swollen than I thought it would be, but three weeks in a row playing, especially last week, it was kind of was a different walk. But it’s holding up nicely.”
That’s Koepka’s vibe in a soundbite. Optimistic and pessimistic and confident for the future, all in one. But it’s not just the knee — it’s the post-major atmosphere that gets him.
“It’s all mental,” he explained. “It’s tough to focus like that for — I’m going to be flat out honest. I can’t focus. A major I get excited and I feel stuff on the first tee; I just struggle to do that in regular events. The focus and discipline is there in a major where it’s not here. I kind of go for everything.”
Let’s run that through a translator. In essence, Koepka is saying that he doesn’t get up for non-major events. That’s not because he doesn’t want to. He just doesn’t know how to do so. And that suboptimal non-major showing comes from a lack of patience.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m not trying to finish second,” he explained. “It’s just, I think the majors are easier to win if you’re disciplined. Out here I think there are a lot more guys that have the opportunity to win just the way it sets up. Instead of having like three off the side, you’ve got five. So you got a little more room for error, and I think that’s why.”
That “three” and “five” he’s referring to is paces off the edge of the green. The hole locations are slightly friendlier, essentially, during a normal PGA Tour event compared to a major championship. Koepka likes it when there’s less room for error, so that other golfers make more errors, under which circumstance Koepka can comfortably play patiently to the center of the green, knowing that by making par he’s picking up shots on the field.
When he says he “goes for everything” in a normal Tour event, that’s the contrast he’s highlighting. Koepka at his best is a conservative golfer; he’s a tight-handed poker pro only calling when he has two proper cards in his hand. When he’s tempted into taking on pins and playing overaggressive golf, he gets sloppy.
Good news for Koepka: His next tournament is a major. The Open Championship at Royal St. George’s is right around the corner, and Koepka plans to be his best self for the event. In the meantime?
“Next week I’m not going to touch a club for like 10 days,” he said. “Just excited for vacation next week and to get away.”
Then, he said, he’ll head over the Friday or Saturday before the tournament to adjust to the time change and get a proper warmup for the Open itself.
“When you get there on Monday you’re not trying to just figure out where you’re at, so get there a few days early,” he said.
Koepka’s had good success in majors. And while he hasn’t won the Open, he’s finished in the top 10 three of the last four times he’s played the event. This time he’ll look to improve on those results, too.
After all, he’s not there to finish second.