Keeping Score

When Koepka fails to win, it's part of plan

This paralysis by analysis of why Brooks Koepka doesn’t win events other than majors needs to end. Because it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t concern us, and it certainly doesn’t bother him.

Koepka fits the modern game perfectly. He’s strong, has fast-twitch speed and is one of the best putters in golf. And the way the new professional schedule is arranged, the emphasis is on major championships, and Koepka is a major beast.

Of course, Koepka is going to play more events each year than majors – he is the field for this week’s 3M Open in Minnesota (tee times). But we have this borderline obsession about his lack of performance in non-major tournaments – he has won four major titles and two regular PGA Tour events.

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At the end of the PGA at Bethpage, Brooks Koepka finds his name – and image – in lights in New York.

© GOLFFILE/KEN MURRAY
At the end of the PGA at Bethpage, Brooks Koepka finds his name – and image – in lights in New York.

Koepka should stop thinking about it – maybe he does, anyway – and use these events as warmups for the next major, this time the British Open in two weeks at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.

Tiger Woods famously and steadfastly maintained that the only reason he entered tournaments was to win. Period. A handful of other players are good enough to say the same thing. But most players on the PGA Tour will tell you that they want to play well enough each week to get in the chase with nine holes to go on Sunday.

Short of that, they work on their swing, their short game and their mental focus so that when the time comes that they are in contention, they are better prepared to close the deal.

There’s only one winner each week, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to win on the PGA Tour, especially when players such as Nate Lashley can come out of nowhere and practically lap the field, as he did at the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week (“Keeping score,” July 1). The way Lashley played, no one was going to beat him.

Armchair golf analysts, and those who are paid to do so, believe that Koepka rises to a different mental level at majors that he doesn’t reach in regular events. So what? Even if Koepka isn’t at the 3M to win, golf fans still have the opportunity to see a four-time major champion up close, and what can be wrong with that?

Koepka himself maintains that winning is not his focus, even at the biggest tournaments.

“I know sometimes it doesn't happen,” Koepka said at the Travelers Championship, one week after he finished second to Gary Woodland in the U.S. Open. “I can't control the result. I wouldn't tee it up if I didn't want to win. Not everything is results-based with me. It's about the process. I think that's why I'm able to play so well in the majors, because I'm not worried about winning.

“I'm not worried about the pressure of being in first or trying to do something, accomplish three in a row, whatever it was. Even last week, it's just about the process.

“So if I can get the process down, the result is going to come. That's kind of how I feel. Even this week. Just go back to the process. Same thing every week. Mentally, if my process is there, I'm excited. I even told my caddie [Ricky Elliott] today, ‘We're going to try to take the mental approach we do at the majors this week. I'm going to try something maybe a little bit different and see how it works out.’ ”

It didn’t. Koepka tied for 57th at even par after four rounds, 17 shots behind Chez Reavie, who was in the third-to-last pairing in the U.S. Open and finished T-3. Reavie won for the first time in 11 years. Maybe Reavie was preparing for the Travelers at the U.S. Open.

Experiment tried, experiment failed. Only Koepka knows how much he wants to win, and when.

“I've never once thought about finishing 10th in an event, Koepka said at the Travelers. “You're not focusing on the top guy if you're focusing on the cut. It's a different mentality. Now I'm just focusing on winning. That's it.”

But there’s the other side of Koepka. The part that tries to convince himself that the outcome doesn’t matter when he’s playing in an event in the run-up to a major championship, as long as he remains committed to the process and the big picture.

“You know, it doesn't really matter about the result,” he said at the RBC Canadian Open, where he tied for 50th one week before the U.S. Open. “I couldn’t care less what happens. I just want to feel good going into next week. It's the same thing at Byron [Nelson, where he finished fourth the week before winning the PGA Championship to return to No. 1 in the world ranking].

“I thought, as long as I can leave feeling confident, striking the ball very well, starting it where I want to, finishing where I want to, and you know, just hit some good putts. It doesn't matter if they do go in or not. I just want to feel confident leaving.”

It doesn’t seem very likely that Koepka will win the 3M Open this week. Not because he doesn’t want to. He just doesn’t need to.

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


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