Koepka seems as much a contradiction as a champion

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka seems as much a contradiction as he is a champion, someone whose fame doesn’t seem to match his game, a golfer who has won more big events in a shorter time other than Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods but hasn’t connected with the people.

When Koepka hung on to win the 101st PGA Championship Sunday at Bethpage Black, concluding a victory that appeared inevitable from the record opening round, it was his second straight PGA and, with consecutive U.S. Open victories in 2017 and 2018, fourth win in eight majors.

Surely, with the aging of Tiger and stumbling of Jordan Spieth, Koepka, at age 29, is the best golfer on the globe.

And yet, despite the record — he slipped a bit in the final round, with a 4-over-par 74 — Koepka hasn’t been embraced like a Tiger, Spieth or, particularly here in New York, Phil Mickelson.

It’s not his style. He drills tee shots virtual miles. In this home of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris — we’re about 35 miles from Yankee Stadium — they love the long ball. Nor is it Koepka’s numbers. Despite his off-kilter round, he still shot a 72-hole total of 8-under 272, two shots ahead of Dustin Johnson and four ahead of Spieth and the Englishman Matt Wallace.

And yet there isn’t a huge outpouring of emotion for Koepka. He’s a winner, undeniably. Not even Tiger or Nicklaus went back to back in the U.S. Open and PGA in two years. It’s just that people either don’t know Koepka or haven’t warmed to him.

Although he’s on top of the game, he’s a virtual unknown.

After college, not gaining a spot on the PGA Tour, instead of going on the Web.com circuit as most of his contemporaries did, he moved across the Atlantic, and played the European Tour, which with the nastier weather and ungroomed courses prepared him for conditions at the majors.

Then, after success he either said he didn’t want to get attention or, when he was overlooked, grumbled that he never was treated in the media like the major champion he is.

Even Tuesday, in the pre-tournament interviews, he alluded to his treatment by the media. Here he was, unique among the current pros, and either it didn’t seem to register in the headlines or TV spots or he was getting ripped for, well, getting ripped, losing weight and building muscles to appear in ESPN magazine’s body issue.

On the Golf Chanel, Brandel Chamblee, a one-time Tour player, said he felt Koepka “sabotaged his body.” Koepka later stuck a clown nose on a photo of Chamblee, and Monday, when Koepka shot a course-record 63 here at Bethpage, Chamblee, delighting in the feud, said the round made him feel as if Koepka had given him the finger.

Now all that should have made Koepka famous, or infamous, but it only would have been among the golf crowd, not the general sporting world. Koepka conceded that he contributed to his problems.

“I mean, some of it was a little bit manufactured,” he said. “I think some of it was quite real. Like I said in the past, I think I said it once, and it just kind of took on a mind of its own. It was just at a point where I'd felt like if other players had (won consecutive Opens), it would have been a way bigger deal.

“I get Tiger was back, so it's a little bit different. You know, a lot of the attention was going to be there. But some of it was a little bit manufactured on myself. But I think you've got to find a chip or you've got to find something to motivate yourself and give you that extra little something going into a tournament or going into an event, whatever it might be, to really want to push you over that line.”

As he knows, it’s not only what you do but where and when you do it.

“I enjoy the big stage.” he said. “That’s what you’re remembered for.”

After another major win on the big stage of New York, we still may not know Brooks Koepka, but we’ll remember him for a long, long while.