News & Opinion

Koepka, outspoken? It’s a major change

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Brooks Koepka Unplugged Tour continued this week at the Honda Classic. After calling out Sergio Garcia for "acting like a child" when he damaged greens in Saudi Arabia and then expressing his frustration with slow players, Koepka said Wednesday in his pre-tournament news conference that we're “getting the real me now.”

“I think before, I was just trying to be politically correct and not stir any bubbles and just kind of go on with things and be unnoticed,” Koepka said. “I feel like I actually do have a voice, and it will be heard, and I can do that now, where when you’ve only won once on the PGA Tour, you can't really say the things you want to say. You haven’t established yourself; you haven't put yourself out there.”

Brooks Koepka
Now that he owns 3 major championships, Brooks Koepka has become more willing to speak his mind about the game.

For those who haven't endured a Koepka news conference, this was refreshing news. I've heard fans say they couldn't root for Koepka, describing him as a boring muscle-head, with his shirts one size too small and who spit dip on the practice green more often than he said anything memorable enough to write down. He was golf's Ivan Drago, the fictional genetic-freak character from the Rocky sequels, who utters monotone phrases such as, “I must break you,” and, “If he dies, he dies.”

Koepka, 28, skipped out on the usual media tours to daytime and late-night talk shows in New York after winning his three major championships – 2017 and ’18 U.S. Opens, 2018 PGA – as if they would interfere with his workout schedule. But all of a sudden, he has been stirring more than just bubbles; he's been stirring the pot. I, for one, like this version of Koepka, who went on something of a podcast tour of late and voiced several opinions.

Koepka didn't hesitate to call out one of his own for bad behavior, saying of Garcia on "The Playing Through" podcast, "That's just Sergio acting like a child. It's unfortunate that he's got to do that and complain. Everybody's got to play the same golf course. I didn't play very good, but you didn't really see anybody else doing that. You're 40 years old, so you've got to grow up eventually."

He added, “It's not setting a good example, and it's not cool to us, showing us no respect or anybody else.”

Strong words against a fellow major champion. I can't wait for their next pairing; can you? In Saudi Arabia, Koepka also went on a slow-play rant on the “Golf Monthly” podcast and followed it up during his PGA Championship media day tour by addressing the issue further on Danny Kanell's SiriusXM radio.

"It is frustrating. There's a lot of slow players. A lot of them are kind of the very good players, too, which is kind of the problem," Koepka said. "I think it's weird how we have rules where we have to make sure it's dropping from knee height or the caddie can't be behind you, and then they also have a rule where you have to hit it in 40 seconds, but that one's not enforced. You enforce some, but you don't enforce the others.

"[Slow players are] breaking the rules, but no one ever has the balls to actually penalize them.”

Where has this version of Koepka been for the past few years? Justin Thomas says it's the media's fault.

"No offense, but nobody really talked to him," Thomas said. "There was no one to speak his mind to, other than us."

Koepka always has been a sneaky-good quote to me because he's a straight shooter, and as he put it, “borderline cocky.” Maybe the media just needed to pull back a few layers of the onion, and maybe Koepka just needed to let the walls down. The best part of the Kanell interview was still to come when Koepka detailed his tactics and tricks for forcing slowpokes to play at his pace.

"Some of these guys are so slow, I'll take my sweet time getting to the ball," Koepka said. "I don't have to go to the bathroom. [I] just go to the restroom and just kind of chill in there for five minutes, so we get on the clock, and now we're playing at my pace.

"It's probably not the right thing, but it is what I do."

Koepka isn't the first to do this, but it makes it no less brilliant of a tactic. He intentionally will get on the clock so that the players in his group are timed (and thus have 40 seconds to hit a shot, 50 if they’re the first to play).

Koepka has gained admission to a new world, and he's learning that as a three-time major champion, his hot takes can make headlines around the world. Lucas Glover, the winner of the 2009 U.S. Open, described this phenomenon to me.

"All of a sudden, they thought I was smart and asking me what I thought about all sorts of things, and I'd say, 'The same thing I thought two weeks ago when you didn't know who I was,' " Glover said.

Koepka isn't kneeling during the national anthem or tackling critical social issues, but it's good to hear that he's got a voice and he plans to use it. He credited NBA players as his inspiration.

“That’s kinda where I got it from, just from all these guys who play basketball. They speak their mind; they’re gonna do what they want to do; they’re gonna say what they wanna say,” he said.

"I don't think I'm speaking anything but the truth," he added. "If you can bring me something to show me otherwise, I'll believe it. All I've said is, slow play is an issue. We all talk about it on the golf course, how big a problem it is. That's nothing new."

But it is new to hear Koepka using his pulpit, and now that we've gotten a sample of what's going on upstairs, we want more. Koepka's agent Blake Smith of Hambric Sports said one reporter asked him if it was an orchestrated effort to make Koepka more likable. Smith rebuffed the claim and said the media finally are asking him good questions rather than just about what it was like playing in Kazakhstan on the Challenge Tour. Whether it is a concerted effort or not, it's working.

"There's a lot of things I've got opinions on. I'm going to say it now. I'm not going to hold anything back," Koepka said during his news conference. "There's a lot of good things, and there's some things that need to be changed."

The next question begged for a follow up, or something as simple as, "So, Brooks, anything you want to get off that muscular chest of yours?"

Instead, we got the rally killer of rally killers: "Talk about some of the challenges the course presents, especially the Bear Trap with some of the changes at 17?"

Ugh. Dan Jenkins dubbed these questioners point-missers. Just when Koepka seemed ready to open up on any number of issues – backstopping, tipping practices, building a wall, who knows where he was ready to go – he was whisked from the stage. News conference over. We were left to wonder, What else is bothering Brooks?

The good news is, we should know soon.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak