Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Brooks Koepka won his third major in his last six starts, yet everybody seems surprised when he shows up on leaderboards. Is Koepka underappreciated?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Totally under appreciated, including by me. But three majors at age 28, and two in the same year, is pretty rarefied air. So, the next time you ask, “who did you pick in this week’s major?”, I hope I remember to say Brooks Koepka.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Brooks is underestimated. He is who he is. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t exactly stand out, whether that’s his attire, his play or his interviews. So, this doesn’t surprise me. He reminds me of DJ, they’re essentially clones. I think of all the great players in history, most of them stick out not just for their play, but for other reasons too. Now, picture Brooks, does he have any of those same traits like Arnie, Jack, Player or Tiger? Same cache? And in today’s world, like it or not, you either stand out or you blend into the crowd. Underappreciated for his play, he sure is: but he’s a fine player, just not flashy.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Koepka is the real deal! He has known it for a while even though the public hasn’t. His lack of recognition is because he was dealt all the ‘cards’ for playing but without the ‘sparkle’. He does interview extremely well and he is photogenic but he isn’t a dashing charismatic figure. In his case, that might be a good thing. While others are the ‘talk of the town’ he can quietly ‘fly under the radar’.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): He certainly flies under the radar, or at least has up until now. He hasn’t been considered a premier player because he hasn’t won enough. Despite winning three of the last seven majors, he only has one other PGA Tour win. But it’s hard not to consider him one of the best players in the world currently, at least one of the top clutch players! It will be interesting to see what his odds are in April when the next major comes along.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: In the US of A media (especially TV), Fowler gets 10 times more attention and credit, while aging Eldrick gets 100 times more. Koepka is definitely appreciated for his work ethic, pure talent, and the admirable route through Europe he took to the Tour by the players, credible golf media, and true fans of the game. Now everyone else knows what we’ve known for a couple of years.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I think when Koepka won at Erin Hills, everybody considered it was a bit of a fluke because the course was set up for bombers. However, when he defended his U.S. Open title this year at Shinnecock Hills, people may have started to believe he was for real and were just beginning to digest that bit of news when he pounced again at Bellerive. It all happened pretty quickly but I doubt anybody will take Koepka for granted again.
Tiger Woods contended again in a major, serving notice that the comeback is real. Most of the crowds at Bellerive were following Tiger on Sunday and it was like 2000 all over again. Do you think the old Tiger intimidation factor is felt by the other players, even though most of them never competed against Tiger when he was at his best?
Deeks: No, I don’t. Partly because he hasn’t been able to close the deal, either by dominating through the weekend, or by coming back like Halley’s Comet. But his overall return from the ashes has been extremely impressive, I must admit.
Loughry: I think the players are fully aware of Tiger on the leaderboard at various points in any tournament. They notice the decibel level of the cheers when Tiger does something out there. No other current player brings that out. Is that intimidating? Well, I think as most of the young players watched Tiger and tried to emulate him (swing, confidence, and other mannerisms like focus and his stares) and many also adopted his killer instinct. They certainly appreciate Tiger, but they want to win just as much as he does. So, they may not be as intimidated as previous players may have been.
Schurman: Yes! I think Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas and Adam Scott got caught ‘Tiger watching’. Koepka played beautifully particularly on the back nine when he simply went about his business. There’s an old story about Ben Hogan and a regular tour player fighting head to head through the back nine birdie matching birdie. Hogan finished birdie, birdie to win. After in the locker room, the other player congratulated Hogan. Hogan graciously accepted the kind words and then turned on his way out and asked: “How did you do”? He was oblivious to the events of the afternoon. During Koepka’s Press Conference after the round, he asked “Did Tiger birdie number nine? Perhaps he was oblivious to all the Tiger roars and just stuck to the task at hand which is to shoot the lowest score regardless of your circumstances.
Rule: The intimidation factor is definitely not there like it used to be, and it shouldn’t be. He has been in contention a number of times this year but can’t seem to close the deal like he used to every time he got in contention. So why would the guys be intimidated by him? The only thing that would possibly intimate the players is the size of the crowds and the “Tiger Roars”, which were more evident last week at Bellerive than they have been since his last major win in 2008!
Quinn: I don’t think there is any intimidation left in the red shirt. Koepka referred to the Eldrick roars: “When Tiger started making his little run,” which doesn’t exactly relay any fear factor.
Mumford: Tiger may not be winning yet but his crowds and the attention he gets are hard for any of the other players to ignore. Heck, in press conferences, the first question a player is usually asked is either what it was like to play with Tiger or were they aware of what Tiger was doing. Most of them never heard the roars from the early part of Tiger’s career but they all know what they mean and that must be disconcerting, if not downright intimidating.
The best players in the game measure their year on majors and other wins. Which top ranked player is most disappointed right now that this season has passed without a major victory.
Deeks: I would think McIlroy and Spieth would both be somewhat shocked and stunned that they haven’t done better this year… Spieth in particular, because he hasn’t really been in the mix since the Masters. Jason Day has been expected to do better (if only by me), although I would also think that Henrik Stenson must be frustrated by his failure to be on any major leaderboards, after his spectacular win in The Open Championship two years ago. That was supposed to be his launching pad, but the rocket has surely fizzled. And I guess Sergio has come to realize that that Masters two years ago is going to be his one and only major. Two other players who must be disappointed would be Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm, about whom great things continue to be expected, but not delivered.
Loughry: This is a doozy. My shortlist is DJ, Spieth or Day. A distant 4th is Rory. I just think he knows no matter how good he hits it, driver included, he can’t putt, so he knows he’s a longshot. The most disappointed should be DJ. He’s so stoic though, maybe it doesn’t bother him much at all. And he has won three times this year already, which is a nice thing to fall back on. Spieth seems to have more fire in his belly and he’s more emotional, so maybe he feels it more than most.
Schurman: Majors are different for a reason – they are tough to win! I’m sure there are players who begin the season with a major victory on their mind but golf is a fickle game. Sometimes you are playing well and don’t win one and then sometimes you aren’t at your best and you do. However, I think the player who is on the ‘downside’ and is facing some kind of overhaul is Jordan Spieth. He isn’t driving the ball and his putting inside five feet is a problem. We might have seen the best of his career.
Rule: There are many players that would be disappointed in not winning a major this year, possibly nobody more so than Rory. He came into the year wanting to return to his dominant form and adding to his major championship totals while returning to #1 in the world, but he didn’t even come close. I would think he’s more disappointed in his year than anyone else on tour.
Quinn: Rory has to be pretty upset. There were indications that he’d sorted out his game and there were flashes of the old brilliance, but he couldn’t sustain it over four days. Much like Day, you watch Rory for a few holes and think he’s unbeatable, then tune in a bit later and watch him tap in for bogey or worse. Impossible to guess what he has to do to get it back, or if he ever will.
Mumford: They’re probably all extremely disappointed but many have been struggling with some aspect of their game, so expectations of winning were probably based more on hope than reality. Expectations were probably highest for Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. Rose had the best combined score of all the players to make the cut in all four majors. He finished last calendar year as the hottest player in the world and expected even better things for himself this year. That he didn’t win a major is maybe the biggest surprise of the year. DJ has held the World #1 ranking for 18 months and even though he has three wins to comfort him – NO major. It’s hard to tell if DJ is disappointed. Heck, it’s hard sometimes to even know if he has a pulse.