‘Big Game Brooks’ Koepka blocks out the chaos as he chases another US Open title

‘Big Game Brooks’ Koepka blocks out the chaos as he chases another US Open title
Brooks Koepka hits from the fairway on the 14th hole during a practice round for the US Open Championship golf tournament at The Los Angeles Country Club on Tuesday in Los Angeles. (AP)
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Updated 14 June 2023

‘Big Game Brooks’ Koepka blocks out the chaos as he chases another US Open title

‘Big Game Brooks’ Koepka blocks out the chaos as he chases another US Open title

LOS ANGELES: Brooks Koepka is at a major and feeling as good as ever. His health. His trophy count. His mood.

Especially his mood.

Koepka all but shrugged at the chaos surrounding golf, an agreement between the PGA Tour and the Saudi national wealth fund that pays for LIV Golf. He remembers having breakfast at The Grove in Florida when he heard the news. And then he went out to practice for the US Open.

“There’s four weeks a year I really care about and this is one of them,” he said. “And I want to play well.”

But when he finished speaking Tuesday, he hopped off his chair and said with the slightest smile, “See you at Travelers.”

That would be the Travelers Championship next week, a PGA Tour event that excludes him as a LIV member.

A few minutes later, after a brief television interview, Koepka was headed toward the clubhouse at Los Angeles Country Club when someone referenced his cheeky remark by saying, “Really, Brooks?”

Another smile, and he moved his hand in a circular motion to indicate stirring the pot.

Rarely has such big news had so few answers, and Koepka was among those who wasn’t sure where this business agreement among the PGA Tour, European tour and Public Investment Fund was headed.

Nor does he particularly care.

Koepka cares about the majors, and no one is playing them better at the moment.

He had the 54-hole lead at the Masters until Jon Rahm tracked him down, and Koepka won his fifth major, the PGA Championship, at Oak Hill. That was his favorite, mainly because of injuries to his knee that made him wonder if his best golf already was behind him.

Koepka has said if healthy, that might have made his decision to move to LIV Golf last year more difficult.

He’s happy with where he is, no matter the format or how often he plays. Everything is geared around the majors.

The record is astounding. Along with his five majors, his has four runner-up finishes. Dating to 2015, when Koepka first became eligible for all of them, he has finished in the top 10 in 18 of his last 30 majors.

He has spent one round over two days on the North course at LACC, the front nine on Monday and the back on Tuesday, and then there will be nine holes on the final day of practice.

In the midst of these preparations is chatter about where the PGA Tour and LIV Golf are headed under the agreement. Some believe it can be a distraction, others figure it all goes away once numbers start to fill scorecards on Thursday.

Koepka doesn’t mind either way.

“The more chaotic things get, the easier it gets for me,” he said. “Everything starts to slow down and I am able to focus on whatever I need to focus on while everybody else is dealing with distractions, worried about other things.”

He believes that’s one reason he thrives in the biggest events.

“I enjoy the chaos,” he said.

His definition of chaos is not just what happens off the course. Koepka thinks back to Shinnecock Hills for the 2018 US Open, when the course got away from the USGA (again) and no one from the final 22 groups broke par in the third round. That’s the year Phil Mickelson swatted a moving ball on the 13th green out of frustration.

Koepka wound up winning, making him the first back-to-back US Open champion since Curtis Strange in 1989.

“Everybody was ... complaining,” he said. “They were all so focused on the golf course they kind of forgot about what was going on, that they were there to play a major championship. OK, the greens are pretty fast. But if you leave yourself with an uphill putt, it’s not too bad.”

He smiled as if everyone should know this.

Koepka clearly has a winning formula, and that starts with good health. A year ago, having not given his left knee time to heal, he tied for 55th in two majors and missed the cut in the other two. It was during that stretch he wondered if he could compete with the best every week.

And then LIV came calling and paying, he had a full offseason to recover, and he looks like the Koepka of old.

He’s back to being “Big Game Brooks.”

Koepka knows the history of the major, that it’s how careers are measured. But the passion comes from experience. He qualified for the 2012 US Open as an amateur, was tied for the lead after nine holes playing in the final group (1 under) “and just gagged it up on the back nine.” He shot 42 for a 77 and missed the cut.

A year later, he was invited to the PGA Championship and spent the final round playing with Tiger Woods.

But it was 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2 that really sparked him. He had no chance that week — Martin Kaymer won by eight — but Koepka fought his way into a tie for fourth.

“That was kind of the first taste of it,” he said.

The finish effectively earned Koepka, who started his career on the Challenge Tour in Europe, a PGA Tour card. He won the Phoenix Open the next year and has been a force in them ever since — at least when healthy.

That’s where it all starts with Koepka, who looked to be in fine form on so many levels with another major on the horizon.