Since 2017, Brooks Koepka has been a regular presence in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking. He entered it in seventh place, took first in 2018 and 2019, after which he dropped to sixth. Yet, his approach to the game is perhaps one of the coldest we have evidence of.
No (obvious) superstitious gestures. No cursing or contrite faces when he misses a shot. No post-game outings with other golfers. A golf robot? No, someone with his own philosophy of play.
Against the field or against other players?
In soccer or basketball, it is self-evident that the opponents are those of the other team. When you play, the goal is both to score and to prevent others from doing so in turn. In golf, the latter concept does not exist: you cannot tackle your opponent or intimidate him. The only thing you can do to beat him is to play better than him.
Given the above, there is a whole school of thought according to which the golfer ‘s real opponent would be the golf course itself. As a result, other players would only be people involved in the same personal challenge as you. People with whom you can go for a beer after the round, with whom you can even train and make friends. Brooks Koepka takes a different view.
For the champion, the watchword is “never fraternize with the enemy.” When asked by a GQ reporter about his relationship with other tour participants, Koepka goes so far as to say:
“This may be read the wrong way, but I already have enough friends. I don’t need to make any more. Just because we work together doesn’t mean we necessarily have to be friends.”
Which translates into a nice, “I’d rather have nothing to do with it, or almost nothing.” According to Koepka, befriending someone against whom you compete is a capital mistake. First, he can never get beyond resentment toward those who have done better than him. Second, according to him, a way to hinder the opponent is also there in golf.
Golf is a game of the head
In golf you can’t be very explicit, at least on the course. Diluting or trying to intimidate opponents is unthinkable. There is no counterpart to the All Blacks’ Haka in golf. According to Koepka, this is not quite the case, however.
When he is on the green, Brooks Koepka is very careful to pick up any cues that may come from his opponents. Clues to field conditions, wind direction, all those little variables that can decide the outcome of a shot. At the same time, he is very careful not to let any of this valuable information shine through: he remains impenetrable so that no one can “snatch” clues from him that might come in handy to do better than him. But that is not the only reason.
One case is emblematic is the clash between him and Tiger Woods, at Augusta National. Koepka misses a crucial shot that will cost him the round. A half-voiced expletive or an expression of regret would be more than normal, but he does none of these things. He thinks about Tiger Woods watching him, the other players, and ponders how the situation might be read.
If he curses, everyone will know it was his mistake. If, on the other hand, it does nothing, it may have been a mistake as an unforeseen depression as a gust of wind… If it remains unflappable, it will instill the canker of doubt in other players, who will begin to wonder if there is something they missed. If they are young or a little too anxious, it will distract them with worries that were not there before.
Of course, in golf you cannot attack your opponent. Not explicitly, perhaps, but Brooks Koepka decided to do it using his head.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: that’s also part of the game.