Tour Confidential: Is Brooks Koepka actually overlooked and underappreciated?

August 13, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Tonight we discuss Brooks Koepka’s big win, Tiger’s future major chances and more.

1. Brooks Koepka made another bold-faced statement Sunday at the 100th PGA Championship, winning his second major title of 2018 (and third overall) at rain-softened Bellerive. There’s a perception — seeded by Koepka and others — that his precipitous rise has been underappreciated. Would you agree, and, if so, why has this been the case?

Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@Jess_Marksbury): I’d definitely agree that Koepka’s achievements have been underappreciated, and I think Shipnuck nailed the reason why in a tweet earlier this week: Brooks likes to say he doesn’t watch golf and isn’t a “golf nerd,” but he’s offended when the golf nerds fail to rally around him. As fans, we want to see emotion — really, any indication that a player cares will do. It’s endearing. Today’s bloodless finish on 18 is a perfect example of that disconnect. Brooks claimed that by putting before Adam Scott (and then tapping in to win!), he was just trying to get out of Scott’s way, but c’mon, man! You’re about to win your third major! Mark your ball so you can have your winning moment! Bask in the glory! Give the people a reason to cheer! It ended up being a supremely mundane and awkward finish to what had been a rip-roaring back nine otherwise.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): Totally agree with that, Jess. Brooks is so low key, it does in a way come across as apathetic. The 18th hole was awkward, and Koepka’s early tap-in also denied Jim Nantz a chance to seal the moment with a signature pun to be replayed for generations. (Some fans look forward to those puns!) But look, three majors at 28 is monstrous, and this triumph elevates his stature to new heights. He’s entering rarefied air in this game, and he’ll receive a new level of attention — and appreciation — because of it.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar: Underappreciated, maybe. But that’s our problem, not his. Sure, I like an outward show of emotion like anyone, but I love old the adage “Act like you’ve been there before.” It’s the difference between a guy who hits a home run and immediately starts jumping around, beating his chest, pointing into the crowd and slow-trotting around the bases, and a guy who hits a home run and runs around the bases quickly, head down, not showing anyone else up. He expected to be there, he gets paid to do that, and he’s not the least bit surprised he hit it. It’s not his problem that you didn’t expect it. If there is such a thing as winning a quiet three majors, Brooks has just done it. At the end of the day, or the career, I suspect he’ll be happy just adding them up and seeing where he stands amongst the best.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Exactly, John. He doesn’t exude great joy but who knows what he feels? His golf is incredible to watch, to switch gears as he does, from power player to finesse player.

Josh Sens, contributing writer: And the best news is, if he ever tires of winning majors, he can parlay his square jaw and bulging biceps into a starring role in a Marvel action movie.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): One thing’s for sure: his rise will be less underappreciated now. That’s what happens when you fend off Tiger Woods.

Brooks Koepka lifts the Wanamaker trophy at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.
Brooks Koepka lifts the Wanamaker Trophy at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.

2. Here’s your chance to appreciate Brooks: What was most impressive about this performance, and where does this three-majors-in-six-tries blitz rank among the greatest accomplishments in modern golf history?

Ritter: The cold-blooded birdie on the par-3 16th — a laser four-iron and 6-footer that followed — just took the life right out of Adam Scott, who was playing alongside him. Koepka’s three majors loom large. Rory of course has bagged four, and Spieth also has three. Both of those guys have reached No. 1 and won more worldwide events, but at this point, you can make a case for Koepka being the third-most significant player of the past decade.

Marksbury: It’s no small thing to shoot a final-round 66 amongst deafening roars for a charging Tiger. Koepka never let up, and while I agree his incredible birdies on 15 and 16 were the real death blows, the birdie trifecta on Nos. 7-9 after back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5 showed real grit as well. In modern golf history, I suppose his nearest peer is Padraig Harrington and his collection of three majors in 2007-2008. But the dominance Koepka has displayed over the last 14 months indicates he will continue to be a force in many majors to come.

Wood: Despite what was going on two groups ahead of him: the bedlam, the madness, the mania — he never looked like he was doing anything other than playing a Tuesday money game against DJ. I suspect most people were rooting for Tiger to win, and at most majors, Tiger playing that kind of round would’ve gotten it done, but I never felt Brooks was ever out of control of the tournament. The outcome always felt like he was the one who would decide it.

Bamberger: He won without being lucky. I can’t think of one moment of good luck. He started slow on Sunday and he floored it for the next 63 holes. As Woods did at the ‘97 Masters. Where does it rank? Almost alongside Jordan Spieth’s 2015.

Sens: Koepka is cold-blooded. This stoicism throughout the round was an apt prelude to the way he stripped the final moments of any drama. He played a game with which a number of modern players are familiar, but without any serious wildness. As the afternoon wore on, I kept thinking they needed to find a harder game for him to play.

Dethier: All four of you nailed it, but I’ll add this: Koepka seemed like he could have (should have?) shot about 62 in the final round. That’s pretty wild.

3. Tiger Woods thrilled the golf world and beyond with a Sunday charge that culminated with a six-under 64 on his scorecard — his lowest-ever final round in a major — and a solo second finish. So much ink has already been spilled about the ups and downs of Woods’s comeback but what did this Sunday teach us about Woods that we didn’t already know?

Ritter: It’s for real. All of this. The rebuilt back. The new swing. The nerves under pressure. The incredible golf mind. All of it somehow, someway, is still enough. All he has to do is stay healthy and remain on his current track, and he’s going to win again. And yes, that includes a major.

Marksbury: My mind is still blown by what we saw today. Tiger made eight birdies and didn’t hit a fairway until the 10th hole. His composure under pressure has been lacking in this comeback but today it was on full display.

Bamberger: He’s showing the depth of his desire, the depth of his talent, the fight deep within him. With much less game, we’re able to see the building blocks that made Tiger Tiger in the first place.

Sens: The fact that his mental game can still approach that of peak-Tiger. Woods said so himself after the round; all across the front nine, he was relying mostly on his mind. Still, as great as his round was, what Sunday also showed us was just how hard he’s going to have to continue grinding if he’s going to win.

Dethier: That the comeback is complete. No, Tiger hasn’t put a victory bow on this phase of his career — not yet. But seeing him locked in like that reminds us: when Tiger Woods is at the peak of his powers, there’s nobody else like him. He looks like he’s meant to be there, doing exactly what he was doing Sunday: attacking the golf course, invigorating the crowd, showing emotion and adrenaline and harnessing it use to his advantage. A singular Man in the Arena.

4. Yes or no question: This means Tiger will win another major, right?

Ritter: Health remains the ultimate wild card, but after today, it’s all systems go. How many days until the 2019 Masters?

Wood: Yes.

Marksbury: YES. I’m all in on TW.2019. The fact that he has both lead and scared the lead during the final round of the last two majors was an unfathomable idea at this time last year, and I still almost can’t believe it happened. The grit and determination of the Tiger of old is still there, and today was proof that he’s capable of getting the putter to go his way, too. Now it’s just a matter of reps.

Bamberger: There’s no point in saying no. It lacks humanity. I’d say the odds are against it. For his sake and the game’s sake — but mostly his sake — I hope he does. But it’s really not that important. Sorry I could not play by the established rules here.

Sens: I sure hope so. Speaking of next spring, after today, the oddsmakers elevated him to fifth-place among the favorites at Augusta. His line is down to 12-1.

Dethier: I can’t believe he’s only fifth! Prisoner-of-the-moment has me thinking Woods should be second-favorite at Augusta behind Koepka. Majors are really hard to win, so he may not again. But his sheer determination is worth a lot. I’m leaning “yes.”

Tiger celebrates at closing birdie at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.
Tiger celebrates a closing birdie at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive.

5. The eight automatic qualifiers for the U.S. Ryder Cup team were decided Sunday: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, and Webb Simpson. If you’re captaining this squad, what is this team potentially lacking (other than Tiger Woods!) that Captain Furyk can make up for with his captain’s picks?

Marksbury: My picks: Tiger, Phil, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Team USA already has a killer roster. I can’t imagine a world where Phil and Tiger are left off the team, and I agree with Tiger that Bryson’s fiery spirit would make an awesome addition. Finau’s length off the tee is an obvious asset, and his affable nature will make him an easy teammate to pair.

Wood: There are eight automatic qualifiers on paper, but ten in reality. Tiger and Phil are on this team. I’m not sure in what order the picks will come (if they’ll save Tiger or Phil for that last pick, or name them in the first group), but they’ll be there as players. I suspect Captain Furyk, his assistants and the qualified players will take a long hard look at personalities, potential pairings, who might best perform on a course that will be set up to handcuff bombers and reward accuracy, and use the first two playoff events to see who will earn the last two picks.

Bamberger: Oh, I really don’t know. Crazy-good putting? Vast experience?

Ritter: Tiger and Phil are locks. Zach Johnson and, although Mr. Wood politely didn’t say it, Matt Kuchar, will be very tempting. There’s still time for the rest of this to sort itself out, but I think you just want to find a couple of hot players who feel like they can make every putt they look at.

Sens: I like the Zach Johnson call (in that same spirit, I wouldn’t mind seeing a gritty Kevin Kisner in there) but this lineup is so loaded, I think Furyk’s most important task is going to be keeping the team vibe as loose and relaxed as possible. That, and finding Sunday shirts that are better looking than the one Furyk himself wore on Sunday in ‘99. That shouldn’t be too tough, either.

Dethier: I don’t think I put the same value on experience as some others. Gimme Bryson and Xander Schauffele to go with Tiger and Phil. But I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere in that top 20.

6. Sorry, folks, the major season is over. Flip through your memory book and tell us what was the best major of 2018?

Marksbury: I’m currently biased by a short memory, but really, which one tops what we just saw? The weekend was full of big names in the mix: Rickie, JT, DJ, Scott, Spieth — not to mention the epic charge by one T. Woods that sent the entire golf universe into a frenzy. The crowds were huge and LOUD. I loved it all. Let the countdown to Augusta begin!

Wood: Today was tough to beat. You had nearly every big name up on the board in the top ten at one time or another, you had Tiger finding and summoning some of the old magic, and you had the best player in the game, rankings notwithstanding, cold-heartedly winning his third major. Pretty tough to beat.

Bamberger: Carnoustie, hands down. The course, the finish, the winner, the contenders, the atmosphere.

Ritter: The PGA had its trophy delivered on site by a team of Budweiser Clydesdales. Its computer servers were hacked. The players practiced in shorts. The golf course was not major-worthy and should never host another one. And despite all that, it was the best major of the year because it led in the all-important category of strokes gained: spine-tingling moments. The Masters and British were both outstanding this year, but Sunday at Bellerive was my No. 1.

Sens: Hate to rain on the PGA parade, but the venue does matter and the scoreboard bleeding so deeply in the red made the effect less major-like while pushing it a shade in the direction of any-other-week shootouts, no matter the names on the board. Loved the fan electricity, and, of course, lots of the shot-making across the board. But if we’re judging by the exhilaration of the finish, the Masters was the only major this year that wasn’t all but over by the time the final group got to the 18th tee.

Dethier: Sens is right to highlight that the slow finishes; it’s been a year of wild, incredible major Sundays that have unfortunately each ended with touches of anticlimax. I think Carnoustie was my favorite because of the venue and the leaderboard madness on Sunday. Eagles! Doubles! Charges! Collapses! Bellerive was amazing. But it felt like fewer options were in play. Overall? Wow. What an awesome year.