Brooks Koepka: ‘DJ’ chants ‘actually kind of helped’
Open Championship at Royal Portrush holds special resonance with his Irish caddie
Brooks Koepka hugs his Irish caddie as he celebrates winning the PGA Championship. Photograph: Hilary Swift/The New York Times
Brooks Koepka has explained how crowd chants in support of Dustin Johnson inspired him towards victory at the US PGA Championship. Koepka, who held a seven stroke lead before the final round at Bethpage, found himself only one ahead of Johnson with four holes to play after four bogeys in a row.
Somewhat controversially, New York spectators were audible in their support of Johnson at that point. “I tell you what, the hour spent from 11 to 14 was interesting,” Koepka said. “When they started chanting ‘DJ’ on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. I think it helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was very, very stressful, the last hour and a half of that round.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was just in shock, I think. I was in shock of what was kind of going on. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve made four bogeys in a row. I don’t know if I ever have. But I just had to reset. And like I said, I think everybody chanting ‘DJ’ kind of helped that.
“It was definitely a test. I never thought about failing. I was trying my butt off. If I would have bogeyed all the way in, I still would have looked at it as I tried my hardest. That’s all I can do. Sometimes that’s all you’ve got. I’m not trying to lose. I’m not trying to finish second. I’m trying to win.”
In a departure from convention, Koepka insisted he harbours no grudge towards the fans who bellowed in support of a rival. “I think I kind of deserved it,” he said. “You’re going to rattle off four in a row and it looks like you’re going to lose it. I’ve been to sporting events in New York. I know how it goes. Like I said, I think it actually helped. It was at a perfect time because I was just thinking ‘OK, all right, I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go.’”
Koepka has made a habit of turning what he perceives as negativity towards him into motivation. “There’s always a chip,” he said “I think every great athlete always has a chip, whether it be somebody saying you can’t do something; it doesn’t matter. Look at Michael Jordan, I’ve heard him talk about having a chip on his shoulder, and I think that’s important.
“It works for me. Why would I stray from that? It’s one of those things that it doesn’t need to come from anybody. It can come from me. I can make something up in my own head and tell myself I can’t get to 10 [MAJORS]or more, and I’m trying to prove myself wrong. It doesn’t need to come from the outside. I can do it internally, too.”
Koepka, who ultimately held off Johnson by two, has now won four majors inside two years. The 29-year-old smiled when asked what his response to such a potential run would be after he claimed his first PGA Tour title, in Phoenix four years ago.
“I know I wasn’t as good as I am now,” Koepka added.. “I’d probably have said ‘Sounds great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.’ I don’t think I would have dreamed this in 2015.
“It’s been a hell of a run. It’s been fun. I’m trying not to let it stop. It’s super enjoyable, and just try to ride that momentum going into Pebble [Beach, for next month’s US Open].”
July’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush holds special resonance with Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott. The Ireland native grew up playing at the links venue; it may be reasonably argued Koepka barely needs such insider knowledge.
“He knows the golf course, I mean, he grew up two minutes from there.” said Koepka. “He should know where to hit it. I’m excited to get over there. I’ve never actually been to Ireland. That’s one place I’ve never been, which is shocking, because I’ve been all over the world. That’s one place I’ve never been, so I’m looking forward to going.
“It will be special for Ricky, It will be special for me. I’m sure he’s going to have his family, his mum and dad will be out there. I think he’s staying with them that week. I think everybody in Ireland has been waiting for this for a long time, so it will be very special.”