News & Opinion

‘Intimidator’ jolts golf with new attitude

Brooks Koepka is the baddest man in golf.

Take a moment and let that sink in.

Brooks Koepka
Brooks ‘The Intimidator’ Koepka punches out another major championship last month at the PGA.

Now, let’s examine why. Despite not being a really big dude – 6 feet and 205 pounds – he sure looks large, doesn’t he? Broad shoulders, narrow waist, angled lines in his face – he’s an imposing figure, especially on a television screen. He looks as though he could beat you at golf and then beat you up, steal your girlfriend and peel rubber as he drives off with her in his Ferrari.

Koepka is the new intimidator. Yes, Gary Woodland won the U.S. Open on Sunday, but you’d better believe that Woodland knew where Koepka was at any given moment in the Open’s final round. After Woodland hit that uber-impressive pitch shot off the green surface at the 17th, he was looking off in the distance at the 18th green to see whether Koepka made birdie at the final hole, which would have cut the lead to one.

You have to ask yourself the question: If Woodland and Koepka were paired together in the final round, would the outcome have been different? Granted, Woodland has a stare and an athletic swagger, but he’s no match for Koepka in that department. Besides, Koepka is a better putter – and has four majors in his pocket.

Koepka is not a Tiger-like force who could make those paired with him melt before the first-tee introductions. But he does have a Tiger-like record in the major championships, particularly lately. Koepka won four majors in his past nine tries, with back-to-back U.S. Opens and back-to-back PGA Championships. Woods never did that. And in Koepka’s past four majors, he owns two victories and two runners-up. Only Woods has a better record in four consecutive majors.

And Koepka goes on TV and says that majors are the easiest to win because he can eliminate most of the field and doesn’t have many players to beat. And before the U.S. Open, he told the world that he loves major-championship pressure and revels in every situation that requires him to hit his best shots at the most critical times.

Maybe some players actually believe that, and a few would say it to those closest to them. But almost none would go out in a public forum and say such things for all the world to hear. Woods was cocky, even arrogant. But he hardly ever gave the media quotes that might come back to haunt him at the end of the week or end of the year. Koepka appears not to mind.

Koepka now has a history, albeit short, with Woods. At last year’s PGA at Bellerive, Koepka felt the heat of Woods tracking him down on the back nine on Sunday. When Woods made birdies at the 12th and 13th, he got within one shot of Koepka. But Koepka wasn’t the one who backed off. It was Woods, who made bogey at the 14th.

Koepka then slammed the door with birdies at the 495-yard, par-4 15th and the 237-yard, par-3 16th – the two most difficult holes on the back nine – leaving Woods no room to catch up. That’s what Woods used to do to opponents, and this time he experienced what it was like to be the bug instead of the windshield.

Woods won the next battle, at the Masters, and Koepka tied with Dustin Johnson for second, one shot back. But if Koepka doesn’t rinse his ball in Rae’s Creek on the 12th in the final round, we’d be having a different conversation. You can bet he’ll never do that again.

At this year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, Koepka and Woods were paired together for the first two rounds. Koepka torched the Black for 63-65 and a seven-shot lead, while Tiger stumbled around in 72-73 – 17 shots worse – and missed the cut. The speculation all over Bethpage State Park, which Woods intimated, was that he wasn’t feeling his best. But to get torched like that was shocking in its efficiency. Even if Woods had felt 100 percent, would he really have had 63-65 in his quiver?

After Koepka turned human and made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine of the final round and the drunken New Yorkers turned on him, Johnson stumbled with bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17, allowing Koepka to trudge home with the title.

Koepka manhandles golf courses, particularly in the majors. In the final round of the Masters, he played the four par 5s in 5 under. It won’t be the last time he does that. Koepka will win the Masters more than once and likely will be the favorite for most of the next 10 years. As will he likely will be the favorite at the PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open.

And, more importantly, every player in contention on Sundays will want to know where Koepka is and what he’s doing. Whether they can do anything about it or not.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf