Brooks Koepka’s ascension to three-time major champion has been both rapid and under the radar. The diagnoses for Koepka’s underappreciated talent have ranged from charges against his personality, the way he plays the game to the lack of insight he gives the fans and writers through the media.
Whether or not Koepka should be lauded for his incredible accomplishments to date, which culminated by claiming his third major championship in 14 months on Sunday, is not up for debate, but a peek behind the curtain at what makes Koepka such a fiery competitor on and off the course came from Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck’s PGA Championship game story.
A clearly happy and excited Koepka came to the interview room following his triumph, but in watching the press conference, a specific question and answer stood out.
Shipnuck asked the third question of the presser. After two well thought out and vocalized answers, Koepka’s mood turned momentarily.
“Brooks, this win means you’re going to be voted Player of the Year by your peers and by the writers in this room. Three major championship wins pretty much guarantees a spot in the Hall of Fame. Do you feel like you’ll finally get the appreciation you deserve?” Shipnuck inquired.
After some not-so-subtle eye-rolling and readjustments, Koepka simply answered, “Hope so.” He then turned to the moderator and said, “Next question.”
It was a bizarre scene in the moment, but Shipnuck provided some context in his story.
Shipnuck wanted Koepka on the cover of Sports Illustrated following his first win at the U.S. Open in 2017, but was rebuffed by his editors. Instead, they agreed to green-light a Golf Magazine cover story on Koepka, Dustin Johnson and their shared trainer, Joey Diovisalvi.
When the photographer came back with the usable photos, the call was made to feature only Koepka and Johnson. This infuriated Koepka, as Shipnuck tells it.
“Koepka was upset that Joey D. didn’t get his due and it was telling that he cared so deeply about honoring a member of his team who toils in the shadows… ‘
“I didn’t realize Koepka was still sizzling about this until Sunday night in Shinnecock. As I walked into the champion’s conference his agent got in my face and said, ‘Don’t even think about asking him a question.’ I was so surprised I couldn’t formulate a reply. We were blocking the walkway and reporters were streaming in, so I just kept moving forward to find an open seat. Koepka was up at the dais, seated with his glittering trophy. When I looked up he pointed at me and said, ‘You, out.’
“How hot Koepka burns on the inside is certainly what makes him interesting and different from his more popular peers.”
That burning flame and disdain for Shipnuck were clearly not extinguished by the time Sunday’s press conference came around. Maybe it doesn’t explain why Koepka is perhaps the most underrated No. 2-ranked player in the world in history, but it gives more insight into how he got there: creating and using slights, whether they be real or perceived, to ignite his competitive fire.