If Brooks Koepka played baseball the way he plays golf, which would have been fine with him, he would be a latter-day Mr. October. He would be the type who hit a solid .275 with some power in the regular season, then would become a superstar in the playoffs.
How else would you describe the career of a golfer who has five PGA Tour wins, three of them in major championships? Koepka always tries hard and keeps himself in shape year-round. But the sport’s four Grand Slam events just bring something out in him.
“I basically go into — not lockdown, but pretty close to it,” he said, adding that he brings the same tight support crew including a chef who prepares the same strictly maintained menu. “I might have one friend over, but that’s it. I’m up in the morning, going to the gym, playing in the afternoon and then coming back and doing recovery. It’s very focused, very regimented and I don’t stray from it.”
And contention does not stray far from him. He was not at his best on that Sunday at Augusta last month and still he lost by only one shot. Koepka comes to Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship this week as a double defender. He is the defending champion of the PGA, having edged Tiger Woods last August at Bellerive outside St. Louis, and is the defending champion of Long Island, having won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills last June.
Add in the fact he won the 2017 U.S. Open at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills and you have a contender for the title of a latter-day Mr. Major. Koepka has talent, discipline and a knack for rising to the biggest occasions.
“Other than Tiger in his heyday, this guy is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Marc Turnesa of Rockville Centre, a former full-time PGA Tour member who is Koepka’s friend and was his partner in the Zurich Classic team tournament last year. “The power, finesse and mindset are second to none.”
As a member of a golf royal family, Turnesa has great respect for the PGA Championship, which his great uncle Jim won in 1952. As a native Long Islander, he has a healthy regard for this year’s site. He knows a perfect match when he sees one. “I can’t think of a golf course that sets up better for him than Bethpage Black,” he said.
Koepka tied for 70th there during the Barclays in 2016. That wasn’t a major and it was before he made a commitment to become great. “The fairways are relatively tight and they’ve got some turn to them,” he said. “You’ve got to pick and choose what you’re going to hit off the tee. It’s all about placement.
“It’s fun. It’s definitely a lot different. I feel bad for the guys who have to play that, day in, day out. That’s a tough golf course. I think the best part about it is the average golfer, if they go out there and play, can relate to us or we can relate to them.”
Koepka can identify with fans this week because he is just like them when he goes to a baseball game. It was his favorite sport growing up, inspiring him to dream of being like his great uncle Dick Groat, a former National League Most Valuable Player. But he was injured in a car crash when he was 10 and was told not to play contact sports. He took up golf.
He became most serious about it a few years ago when he was working out with his buddy Dustin Johnson, who was closing in on being No. 1 in the world. “I got tired of being average,” Koepka said. “If he’s the best player in the world, why am I not trying to one-up him and do what he’s doing?”
Since then, Koepka has won three majors and Johnson has won one. These days, Koepka trades major championship notes with the most elite golfer of his time.
Woods texted Koepka after the Masters, Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte reported, to acknowledge that each had beaten the other down the stretch in the past two majors. The text went something like this: “It’s 1-1. Let’s go.”