Brooks Koepka has harsh words for himself, praise for Dustin Johnson ending 2020

dustin johnson brooks koepka

Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka playing a practice round at Royal Portrush in 2019.

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At his first major championship of 2020, Brooks Koepka made headlines by slighting Dustin Johnson’s chances. After his final major of the year, Koepka made sure to do the exact opposite.

“I don’t think anybody was going to catch DJ,” Koepka said on Wednesday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, reflecting on the Masters. “DJ played pretty good. It was kind of coming, I think we all knew that he was going to win more than one major, and the run he had from Travelers until Augusta was pretty impressive. That stretch of golf will probably go down as one of the best maybe six months we’ve seen in a long time.”

Compare those words with the tone Koepka struck before the final round of the PGA Championship in August, when he was less complimentary of his competition.

“A lot of the guys on the leaderboard I don’t think have won; I guess DJ — he’s only won one. I don’t know a lot of the other guys up there,” Koepka said at the time. His game couldn’t match his bravado, and he faded to T29 with a final-round 74. He ended his injury-plagued season early with a WD in the second round of the playoffs.

Koepka said afterwards that he wished he’d phrased his comments differently, but there was no mistaking his point: When he’s on, he thinks he should beat the world’s very best, and he hasn’t been on nearly enough this year. With that as the standard, Koepka viewed his 2020 in a pretty harsh light. Take some of these quotes:

On his T7 at the Masters: “I mean, I’m disappointed, it’s not been the year I wanted, but just got to move on and keep pushing through. Augusta, I wasn’t pleased with it, but I guess I get to go back next year.”

On his year as a whole: “I don’t know if I could say that without getting fined. Pretty bad.”

On his start to 2021: “It will be a little bit longer offseason for me because I haven’t won, so I’m not going to be in Hawaii.”

Koepka is likely the Tour’s leader in dismissiveness, so this is his m.o. — he’s perpetually unimpressed with any of his past performances. Still, he remains confident about future results. Koepka enters Mayakoba as the tournament’s second-favorite behind Justin Thomas and he’s coming off consecutive top-10s in his last two starts.

“My game I feel like is trending in the right direction. I like where my swing’s at, I like how everything is, so I’ll just keep working,” he said.

Koepka plans to spend his offseason at home, focusing on fitness and making sure his body is healthy. He plans to play on the West Coast, which he hasn’t always done, and he’s got Torrey Pines in his sights, both for the Farmers Insurance Open and for the U.S. Open some months later. Koepka brightened for a moment, nearly cracking a smile when talking about the PGA Tour’s new “strategic alliance” with the European Tour, recalling fond memories of traveling during his Challenge Tour days. There’s reason to believe good times are ahead.

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This PGA Tour season will be pivotal in determining the arc of Koepka’s career. After an historic major run in 2017-19, when he bagged two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, Koepka had become golf’s unquestioned big-game hunter. He had flipped the script on workout partner and good buddy Dustin Johnson, going from sidekick to main event.

Now Johnson’s back on top. His grip on world No. 1 is tightening, while Koepka has slipped to world No. 12. Since Koepka’s comments at the PGA, Johnson has logged an outrageous stretch of T2-1-2-T3-T6-T2-1, winning the FedEx Cup, the Masters and well over $20 million in that timeframe. He decided last-minute to sit this week’s tournament out.

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The extreme best-case version of Koepka’s future is something like this: He wins this week at Mayakoba, reigniting the form that we saw for two years and proving that any 2020 missteps were due to short-term injury, not long-term ability. He’s still among the game’s best players and should be Sharpied in as a top major threat for years to come. The extreme worst-case version of Koepka’s future? He’s basically an extremely talented golfer who dialed in for a stretch of a few years but could never recapture that form again.

Door No. 1 seems more likely than No. 2, but either way, we won’t figure out the answer this week at Mayakoba. Still, we’ll pick up one more data point. Koepka will, too. Just don’t expect him to be impressed with his own performance.

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com, where he’s told the story of a strange cave in Mexico, a U.S. Open qualifier in Alaska and plenty in between. Dethier joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. He is a Williamstown, Mass., native and a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English. Dethier is the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.