Golf holds its revered champions so near and dear that they are known solely by their first names: Arnie, Jack, Tiger, Phil, Rory, even Jordan. It’s time to make room for Brooks.
Brooks Koepka has earned tons of respect with his four major titles, the most recent one coming the hard way on the rough back nine of Bethpage Black on Sunday afternoon. What the PGA champion deserves now is some love.
Maybe his stumbles down the stretch will help by making him more of a sympathetic figure. Anyway, the man who put his arms around the Wanamaker Trophy on the 18th green merits having public opinion put its arms around him. He is a good guy as well as a great golfer. It is high time he got credit for both.
“Well, he’s very funny, very passionate. I think if folks got to know him on a personal level, they’d know how wonderful and kind he is,” said his mother, Denise Jakows.
Bob Koepka, his father, said: “He’s a good person, he really is. He’s fun to be around. He likes to joke. He likes to have a good time. He has always been very focused and determined no matter what it was that he was doing. I think people only see him at work. If they saw him off the golf course, they’d see a completely different Brooks.”
Affection has been hard to come by, though. People often say they just cannot relate to him or feel for him. He rarely shows emotion and plays with such strong precision that fans look at him as if he were a robot. Even his decision to be more open, more opinionated, more witty has not helped.
From the start Sunday, it seemed as if Long Islanders were trying to get into his head. On the first tee, someone yelled, “It’s windy today, Brooks!” The fans openly and loudly rooted for his closest pursuer, his workout buddy Dustin Johnson, after Koepka made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine and saw his seemingly impenetrable seven-shot lead whittled to one. The chant was clear: “Dee-Jay!”
“It’s New York. What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?” Koepka said later. “I think I kind of deserved it. 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.”
The thing is, he always has been motivated by disregard. He used that again this time, maybe one last time: “It was at a perfect time because I was thinking, ‘OK, all right. I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go.’ ”
Koepka’s golf resume runs rings around Johnson’s. In becoming a four-time major winner, he joins the likes of Ernie Els (another first-name kind of guy), Rory McIlroy, Raymond Floyd and Jim Barnes, winner of the first two PGA Championships, including the one 100 years ago at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn.
He has won two consecutive U.S. Opens and two consecutive PGA Championships. It is difficult to win any major in back-to-back years, and he has accomplished it twice in 11 months. No one ever had won two different majors on Long Island (2018 Open at Shinnecock Hills).
His file as a man is impressive, too. He remains close with both parents, who divorced when he was young. When Denise was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, Brooks left school and golf and Florida State to take care of the household and watch his younger brother, Chase, now a European Tour player.
Brooks organizes golf junkets for the men in the family and schedules impromptu vacations with his mom.
“Forget about the golf part of it; my whole job as a father was to help make him a good person. That’s what I’m probably more proud of than the golf,” Bob said.
The elder Koepka had a good friend in college named Brooks and liked the name. Jakows, a former TV news anchor who kept her maiden name, said, “We realized we had difficult last names so we wanted a first name that was unique enough for people to use it alone.”
Good enough. The guy is the best golfer in the world. It’s time everyone is on a first-name basis with Brooks.