News & Opinion

Brooks Koepka seeks to reclaim simplicity in his game

4-time major champion rose to top of golf world, only to struggle this season before quick trip to Vegas in search of winning hand

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Brooks Koepka resides near the top of the golf world as an elite player.

It’s a different world than what most touring professionals experience, where winning major championships and rising to No. 1 in the world ranking lead the list of goals.

Brooks Koepka Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Brooks Koepka turns to a longtime confidant to help reclaim his winning ways.

For Koepka, whose seven PGA Tour victories include four major championships and that coveted No. 1 ranking for 47 weeks in the past 1½ years, golf’s upper orbit has been his home in recent years.

By most accounts, Koepka has ridden a meteoric career track, but every meteor burns out.

After rounds of 81-71 on the weekend for a T-47 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, Koepka decided that he needed help.

Enter Butch Harmon.

Few, if any, instructors are better at guiding a player through a tough stretch than Harmon.

Instructor Butch Harmon

For Koepka, who works with Harmon’s younger son, Claude, and legendary British instructor Pete Cowen, going to the elder Harmon was more an act of frustration than desperation.

“I just I had so much going on in my head, so many swing thoughts and needed to clear the slate,” Koepka said Wednesday of his quick trip to Las Vegas to see Harmon. “The Harmons are family to me, and so we flew out Sunday, went and saw Butch Monday, and got in yesterday afternoon.”

For Koepka, the 2019-20 season has been a disaster: five events, two missed cuts, one withdrawal, a T-43 at the Genesis Invitational and the poor finish at Bay Hill.

“Butch has seen me swing it a million times,” Koepka said. “He knows. I've seen him at Floridian [National Golf Club in Palm City, Fla.] a million times, and he's stood there when I'm hitting balls with Claude, and he's stood there at the Ryder Cup. It’s one of those things where I just needed a different set of eyes, maybe something might click, because I was failing.”

Admitting failure is unusual for a PGA Tour player. When things go wrong, it’s often the fault of the equipment, the course or the caddie. Koepka, 29, who has shown a tremendous amount of self-awareness and brashness, blames no one but himself.

Koepka just couldn’t match everything up in his swing as instructed by the younger Harmon. Simple techniques that included being aware of his path, where the clubface is or where he is set up, Koepka said, were not happening.

“It's pretty fundamental stuff; I just wasn't doing it, to put it very bluntly,” he said. “You fall into bad habits, yes, and sometimes you’ve just got to work your way out of them. What Butch said – I mean, he saw it in four swings, I think – and told me a couple things.”

After having planned to spend Monday and most of Tuesday in Las Vegas, Koepka was told by Harmon to fly to TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course, site of this week’s Players Championship, and work on the changes here.

“He felt like everything was on the right track, and now it's our job to make sure that it progresses, and it progresses nicely with Claude,” Koepka said.

When Koepka was winning major championships – the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens and the 2018 and 2019 PGAs in a span of 24 months – he didn’t listen to anyone except his coach and his team. He didn’t tinker with clubs or make changes, but success often can change a player’s outlook, and the desire to get better can lead to change that too often is unnecessary.

All of a sudden, Koepka was tinkering with his swing.

“I think I've always laughed, because you see guys do it before you,” Koepka said. “They make changes right when they get to the top, to improve, and the intent behind it is really good. At the same time, a lot of these things are what makes me successful, what makes me tick. And that's what I'm trying to go back to right now, is make it very fundamental, very simple and keep the main thing the main thing.”

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