Did Brooks Koepka ‘choke’ at the Masters? Here’s what he thinks
In a 1972 monologue that has gone down in comedy lore, George Carlin outlined the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” none of which are fit for print on the family-friendly pages of this website.
In professional golf, though, there are actually eight such words: Carlin’s aforementioned curses, plus one more five-letter obscenity.
In the 1990s, NBC analyst Johnny Miller did his best to make the c-word a more accepted part of the golf vernacular, on several occasions employing some variation of the word when players exhibited signs of stress late on Sundays. But since Miller retired from the booth, utterances of the c-word by his successors have been about as rare as an albatross.
That’s why ears perked Wednesday when Brooks Koepka joined Barstool’s “Pardon My Take” podcast and described his inability to protect a four-shot Sunday lead at the Masters last month as a “choke.”
“Yeah, I’d characterize that as a choke,” Koepka said with a big grin to hosts Dan Katz (aka Big Cat) and Eric Sollenberger (aka PFT Commenter). “It was pretty bad. I mean, c’mon, you’ve got a four-shot lead. All you’ve got to do — I was playing good and just choked it away. But it’s all right. We’ll figure it out.”
Koepka is friendly with Big Cat and PFT and has appeared on their podcast several times. It’s also worth noting that Big Cat and PFT foster an informal, laid-back vibe on their show that puts their guests at ease, in many cases leading them to speak more conversationally or flippantly than they might, say, behind a PGA Championship press-conference podium.
Which is exactly where Koepka found himself Wednesday afternoon answering questions about his choke comments.
What, Koepka was asked, did he mean exactly? Could he expound?
“I’m just messing around with those boys,” Koepka said. “Those boys are quite fun. Part of my taste. I love those guys, Big Cat and PFT. They were thinking it if I didn’t say it, so you might as well get it out there right away first so they can’t say anything.”
“That’s not really how you felt it went down?” a reporter asked.
“Theoretically, yes, it is. It is choking, right? If you have a lead and cough it up, that’s choking. But at the same time, I’m not dwelling on it. I’ve been in the lead, that position, a couple of times and haven’t capitalized. I can’t do it every single time. I’m not perfect. As long as I can learn from it, I’ll be better off from it.”
As a refresher, Koepka had a four-shot Sunday lead at Augusta National but not a four-shot 54-hole lead. That’s because the rain-delayed third round wasn’t completed until early Sunday afternoon. When the players were finally through three rounds, Jon Rahm had clipped Koepka’s lead to two.
Still, Koepka’s history suggested that he’d close the deal. On the three previous occasions that he had held a 54-hole lead in a major, he had prevailed. Alas, the trend wouldn’t continue. Over a 22-hole stretch Sunday, Koepka failed to make a single birdie, sliding from 13 under for the tournament all the way to 7 under. Rahm, meanwhile, posted a cool, three-under 69 in the fourth round, which proved easily good enough to claim his first green jacket. When Koepka putted out on the 72nd hole for a three-over 75, Rahm was just moments away from a four-shot win.
When Koepka faced the press after his round, there was no talk of choking, at least not publicly. Koepka said he had “kind of played average, and I didn’t get any good breaks, either.” He said he hit good shots that ended up in bad spots. “But I didn’t feel like I played too bad, and then obviously just tried to give it a run there at the end, but just wasn’t good enough,” he said. The sluggish pace of play hadn’t helped matters, either.
On Wednesday at Oak Hill, Koepka said he didn’t sleep on Sunday night of Masters week as his brain tried to process what had transpired. “Thought about it for a few days after and really honed in on what I was doing and what went wrong,” he said. “From there just never let it happen again. That’s the whole goal, right? You’re not trying to dwell on it. Yeah, it sucks to finish second, but at the same time, as long as you learn from it, you’ll be fine. I think I’ve finished fourth in, what, four or five majors now. Just trying to learn from each one of them.”
What exactly he had learned from this year’s Masters heartbreak Koepka declined to say, but presumably it had something to do with how to play with the lead in big moments. In other words, if Koepka finds himself with another 54-hole cushion at Oak Hill this week, don’t bet on him ch—…err, forfeiting the lead again.