HAVEN, Wis. — Brooks Koepka started his Thursday press conference with big ol’ dose of positivity.
“I didn’t play the morning match, so I went out and watched the guys tee off and got to soak in the atmosphere which was pretty cool,” he said, recalling his Ryder Cup debut in 2016. “I got chills, I think I was standing next to Tiger or maybe Davis [Love III] and was like, ‘how cool is this?'”
It felt intentional. Koepka’s does not always go out of his way to be optimistic or complimentary, but here he was singing the praises of his original Ryder Cup teammate Brandt Snedeker (“I thought Brandt was the perfect partner, I loved it,”) and the approach of team captain Steve Stricker (“he’s done a good job of keeping everything kind of on the low, because it’s a busy week”) and the feeling of playing on a team (“I enjoy it. I think it’s fun”). He made it clear that the Ryder Cup is a week he enjoys, and that he’s happy to be here, mixing it up with his PGA Tour brethren.
He’s still Brooks Koepka, so it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows — he described his physical health as “like glass” and “broken” — but it was natural to wonder if the pointed cheeriness was a response to the blowback he’s been receiving about the Ryder Cup. Blowback from last week’s interview with Golf Digest, in which Koepka opened up on the strangeness of Ryder Cup weeks.
“It’s different. It’s hectic. It’s a bit odd, if I’m honest,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s a bad week. We’re just so individualized, and everybody has their routine and a different way of doing things, and now it’s like, OK, we have to have a meeting at this time…”
You get the idea. Koepka was explaining the unique demands of Ryder Cup week, and contrasting those with his typical tournament preparation, and it didn’t come across as particularly rah-rah. The comments spread, as comments do. The nuance disappeared, as nuance does. Paul Azinger, a former U.S. team captain, suggested Koepka shouldn’t play on the team if he didn’t want to be there. The entire excerpt was put forth as an example of Team USA’s individualism and, by extension, American Ryder Cup failure.
If you’re wondering whether or not this made it back to Koepka, well, he removed all doubt just a couple questions later. Asked specifically about feedback from the interview.
“I never said it was negative,” Koepka said, stone-faced. His stoneface is among golf’s stoniest, and he has a Tiger-like ability to hold a reporter’s gaze when their question has fired him up.
“Y’all spun it that way. I never said it was negative. I said it was different. Like I said, I’ve never played any of these team events. I didn’t play Walker Cup. Never played Junior Ryder Cup. Never played anything. I just said it’s different. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Y’all spun it that way.”
It was clear from Koepka’s glances around the room that “y’all” meant the assembled reporters and also that we were serving as proxy for writers and bloggers and internet commenters worldwide.
It’s worth pointing out, in defense of the “y’all,” that Koepka was not misquoted. What seems more likely is that his remarks didn’t land the way he intended; they weren’t read the way he thought he had delivered them. This is the risk anytime a public figure speaks on the record. The disconnect between delivery and reception is also, ironically, something Koepka shares with rival-turned-frenemy Bryson DeChambeau.
So is Koepka concerned that American fans are thinking of him differently this week?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can only do my job and then y’all report whatever your opinion or side might be. So you guys have already spun it negatively, so it’s going to trickle to the fans, because you guys are kind of our only outlet besides social media. So it’s how you guys take it and spin it, and you guys spun it negatively.”
There’s plenty at work here. There’s Koepka, thinking he has been mistreated or taken out of context, which is at least partially fair. There’s the part of his human nature that has filtered out the positive response and focused wholly on the negative, which is unhealthy but relatable. And there’s a more surprising acknowledgment that Koepka puts a lot of stock in the power of the media itself.
“Whatever [the fans] think is kind of off what they read, whether you write an article, whatever you’re doing. They read that stuff. So it’s all kind of your guys’ opinion, they are going to take that side a little bit more.”
If we’re keeping track of popularity ratings, Brooks Koepka far outstrips “the media.” Either way, he’d like the record to be set straight.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I think it’s a lot of fun to play. Like I said, I wouldn’t be nervous on that first tee if I didn’t care.”