There’s always been something about Brooks Koepka that has made him stand out from the crowd. For one, as a fledgling professional, he took the road less travelled when he became an American abroad, playing the Challenge Tour and then European Tour circuits, rather than jumping straight into the more moneyed world of the PGA Tour.
The globe-trotting sharpened the edges, made him tougher inside.
These days, he’s a LIV player. For good measure, he’s the only player from that breakaway/start-up/rival tour – take your pick! – that is playing in this Ryder Cup. The one American. None from Europe.
Koepka may have a bigger target on this back this week than anyone for the barbs likely to be thrown at him from the crowds. But that doesn’t seem to bother him one iota. He may have taken the millions and millions of greenbacks to jump tours, but the reigning USPGA champion – a five-time Major champion – is the same old Brooks Koepka, doing things his way and very much up for the fight.
As a player finding his way in the world, there were two golfers he looked to more than others. Not Tiger Woods, you might have guessed. Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell were the ones, and he has put the new British Open champion Brian Harman into that same category of player who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Like himself.
“I love guys with a chip on their shoulder. I love guys that are very gritty, gritty players. That’s something when I first came out [on tour], that was who I emulated. I thought to me, growing up, it was Dustin and then G-Mac. G-Mac was especially gritty. He’s got to work a little bit harder than everybody else and always finds a way to get it done, and I think Brian is quite similar. I just love that. Never gives up. Always battling to the end and ready to prove people wrong.”
His right-hand man as ever is Antrim caddie Rickie Elliott, who has been on his bag for all five Majors and by side for his previous three Ryder Cup appearances.
Of why they have formed such a good partnership, Koepka joked, “I think we’ve been so successful because I don’t understand him half the time,” before adding in a more serious observation:
“He’s a great dude. He was a groomsman in my wedding. He’s one of my best friends. We hang out on the golf course, off the golf course. He’ll sometimes even pop down to him or I’ll pop up to him in Orlando and just kind of spend a weekend up there hanging with him. It doesn’t always need to be golf. We’re very close, and I think that’s translated to success on the golf course.
“I think the ideal caddie is just knowing what your player is going to do before they even do it. He can sense if I’m tense, if I’m a little too relaxed, if I’m pissed off, if I’m kind of lackadaisical. He can sense that and kind of get the ball rolling and snap me back into it.”
Koepka has developed a knack for turning up for the big occasions, most notably in the Majors. This week, he has the same philosophy. He is in game mode and LIV has nothing to do with it.
As he put it, “it’s a workweek, so everything stays the same for me. Nothing changes, whether it’s a Major, whether it’s a regular event or whether it’s Ryder Cup. Everything is still the same. Routine is still the same. I’m ready to go. It’s a big event, so I’ll be there.”