Brooks Koepka explains bond with Rory McIlroy: ‘We’ve had good talks’

Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka played together at the 2023 U.S. Open (above) as well as in a Masters practice round.

Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka played together at the 2023 U.S. Open (above) as well as in a Masters practice round.

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They never seemed like an obvious pair.

Rory McIlroy is the wiry Northern Irishman who plays with his heart on his sleeve and talks nearly as well as he plays. Brooks Koepka is the brawny American whose playing style blends stoicism and machismo; he prefers to speak softly and carry a big stick. McIlroy was the face of the PGA Tour; Koepka is LIV’s greatest modern major champion. They weren’t always obviously close and were PGA Tour rivals, for a time, because they kept trading wins and because of what they had in common: In the post-Tiger-and-Phil era, they were the only players with four or more majors.

But it’s more recently that the two have become friends.

During the latest episode of ‘Warming Up,’ I was curious to ask Koepka about their relationship. Can each one learn from the other? What binds them other than major championships and geography? (The two live near each other in south Florida.)

“I think, especially when I was first coming up, from ’12 to ’16, obviously I don’t want to say ‘idolized,’ that would be the wrong word. But I looked up to him a little bit,” Koepka said. At the time, he was battling his way through the Challenge Tour and DP World Tour and eventually onto the PGA Tour; McIlroy was establishing himself as a multiple major champion.

“And trying to figure out, okay, that’s how he goes about it,” Koepka added. “I think one thing I did a really good job of was picking guys. [Dustin Johnson], [Graeme McDowell], Rory, because he was playing so good at the time. It was, okay, grab little things from this guy here, this guy, make it your own.

“But then our friendship has just developed over the years. I’ve enjoyed playing with him, playing against him. I’m pretty sure he’s done the same thing. But it’s a lot of fun, man. We practice at the same place. Live in the same area. How could you not?”

There are plenty of ways they could not, of course. The West Palm Beach area is positively saturated with pros; hit your nearest palm tree and another will fall out. But there’s a clear mutual admiration there; Koepka paused to change clubs and then brought McIlroy back up unprompted.

“Yeah, Rory’s a good dude,” he said. “We’ve had some good talks. We get some good laughs out of it because everybody just — all the stuff going on in golf, sometimes you just have to sit there and laugh.

“The funny thing is, we’ll do that when nobody’s around. If I want to talk to somebody there’s a range at Grove [XXIII, their course in South Florida] and I know there’s nobody else back there, and me and Rory are back there, and I’ve got something I want to say or he’s got something he wants to say to me he’ll pop over and we’ll talk.”

Not, for example, in a practice round at the Masters. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of their Tuesday date at Augusta National, a highly scrutinized session given the ongoing chilliness between their respective golf leagues. They talk about golf’s landscape, Koepka said. But they weren’t solving its problems during that particular round.

“That just happened to be funny and everybody freaked out about it,” he said. “But we’re all pretty good friends, we’re all pretty close. And everybody understands everybody’s position. We’ve got no ill will, man. They’ve gotta do their job and I’ve gotta do mine. As long as you’re honest — I think Rory was honest with me, I was honest with him — it goes a lot better that way.”

You can (and I hope you do, and I hope you like it) watch the entire interview with Koepka below or on YouTube.

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