Brutal honesty from Brooks Koepka (and other pros) is fantastic insight. Here’s why

Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka answers a question during this week's LIV Golf press conference.

Hailey Garrett/LIV Golf

Everyone is afforded the right to be brutally honest on their birthday, as Brooks Koepka was Friday, his 34th. The only hook with Brooks is that he’s almost always brutally honest. He shares most of what he’s thinking, rarely softening his responses to make anyone feel good. 

That much was on display in Singapore, where Koepka is one shot back of the lead after the first round of this week’s LIV event. Koepka shot five under with a lone bogey, one of his better rounds amid a recent period of average ones. He was asked if a round like that can boost his confidence. It’s a question pros get asked all the time. And what do they typically say? 

“Oh, it’s great. Definitely a confidence boost. Got some big tournaments coming up, so it’s great.” 

Now what did Koepka say?

“To be honest with you, not a whole lot. I just look at it like it’s a process. Not trying to peak this week, not trying to peak next week, it’s the week after.”

Ain’t that the truth. In a golf world where the truth is so often stretched these days, we all know that the universal goal is not for players to peak this week, in Singapore or in Dallas, and it’s not next week either, when the PGA Tour goes to Charlotte. It’s the week after next, at the PGA Championship in Louisville. Yes, a great first round is just that, great. But does it boost Koepka’s confidence? To be honest with you, not a whole lot.

“My confidence is there,” he continued. “It’s just the results haven’t been there. But that’s the whole goal is to peak for major season, and that’s what we do.”

It’s possible we — the collective group of media, communication staffers, fans, TV broadcasts — put microphones in front of players too often. Explain that 66 of yours differently than the one you shot last week? What does today’s 68 tell you about your game? I don’t mean “too often” with a sense of regret. Putting microphones in front of them is our job. Mostly, it’s just that pro golfers aren’t great at articulating the differences between 67s. If one good round is markedly different than another, it might be by accident. And it’s possible that pros want all their 67s to be the same, bereft of the nuance that gets us, the fans, giddy. All we want to do is understand this wicked game a bit better, and figure out how the geniuses who play it best work their way through a season full of confusing 76s and content 67s.

To hear that a smooth 66 is not much of a confidence boost for Koepka is a bit maddening, because we feel it should be. But that’s just Koepka telling us who he really is. What he really thinks. That it don’t matter… yet. At its core, a quote like that is all we can ask of these pros who get microphones stuck in their face on the regular. What Koepka offered may have been a bit brutal, but it was honest. And on the Koepka scale, it didn’t really register as much, because brutal honesty is his modus operandi. But it wasn’t the only time a pro has been brutally honest this week. 

A quick scan of similar, first-round press conferences this week shows two other gents speaking their mind as honestly as possible. First, Koepka’s LIV brother, Thomas Pieters, who also carded a 66 in the first round. Did last year’s RangeGoats victory in Singapore help his confidence this year?

“No,” Pieters said. Not another word needed. Sure, it’s possible that returning to the site of last year’s team victory was a confidence boost. But Pieters’ brutal honesty is one that pros aren’t always willing to admit: that good vibes at a course is fine. Just fine. But 12 months is a long time in the pro golf world. Confidence lasts long but not that long. And in reality, it was Talor Gooch and Harold Varner carrying that team last year, two players who have moved on to other teams. Pieters finished T23 that week, middle of the pack.

When asked how he needs to break away from the pack this week and establish a lead, Pieters said, “Just play better than them.” It may have been a bit too blunt, but there’s truth there. Pieters can’t really do a ton to guarantee he’ll establish a lead. He’s one back and however Sebastian Munoz plays is mostly up to Sebastian Munoz. Pieters just has to play better than him. 

Finally, at the end of Pieters’ presser came a question about his pace of play. He is a fast player, and apparently much faster than his playing partners. Does it help him play better when he can play quickly? Does it hurt him at all when others plays slowly? Pieters offered his most brazen thought of the day:

“Oh, yeah, because it’s cheating. There’s a rule for it. I play quick because when I stand over it too long, I start thinking. The less time, less thinking.” 

What a fantastic insight for the next time Pieters is in contention on a Sunday. His every second over the ball (and even that of his playing partners) immediately gets more interesting. 

Our last bit of brutal honesty came from Matt Wallace, the 34-year-old Brit, who shot the round of the day at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson Thursday, halfway around the world from Singapore. Like Koepka, Wallace has a reputation of saying exactly what’s on his mind. Which, for the sake of this write-up, is exactly what we love to see. Even when it comes with a touch of negativity. Like we saw with Brian Harman at the RBC Heritage a couple weeks ago, sometimes the toughest times are the realest times. 

After carding an opening 63, Wallace was asked if he had felt a round like that was coming for him. When he said yes, he was asked how he felt about his season to that point.

“Terrible,” Wallace said, nodding along as he acknowledged it. That’s his brutal truth. “I’ve played poor. But I’m old enough now to know that it’s a long season. There’s so much golf to be played. 

“I haven’t played how I’ve wanted to, but my main focus from how I didn’t start the season was coming up to September when the Ryder Cup points start for me.” 

Your favorite golf pro may be willing to acknowledge they haven’t played great, but most pros don’t love saying it outloud. They might soften it. They might not be comfy using terrible as their choice adjective. And they likely wouldn’t go so far as to admit that the shiny trophy at the end of the rainbow is not necessarily the plaque on offer this week, but placement on a team 17 months from now. The Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black in September 2025. That’s his main focus, here in May 2024. 

How telling of the importance that biennial event holds in the minds of pro golfers. Particularly those who have never played in it. Wallace got a taste of team play at the Hero Cup last January as Luke Donald put together a couple squads in Abu Dhabi to get the European team’s juices flowing. What a tease. Wallace didn’t play well enough in the months that followed to merit consideration for a pick, and clearly that ate at him enough that he’s already locked in on making the team next year. Five months before his points even start to accrue. I love that he said it outloud.

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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