How Brooks gets ready for major battleApril 29, 2019 Opinion
Defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka takes an extreme approach to preparing for golf's biggest tournaments, as Steve Carroll reports
It’s straight out of a Rocky film – not so much the build up to a major as a boxer training for a title fight.
Military in its precision and routine, as the countdown builds to one of golf’s big four tournaments, Brooks Koepka seals himself off from the world.
It’s almost lockdown.
“There’s about five or six people that are allowed in my house,” the 28-year-old explained of the methodical means he uses to bring himself to the boil at the right moment.
“Same crew every time, from my chef to my coach, my agent, and that’s it, no one else is really allowed in the house.
“I might have one friend over, but that’s it. It’s very strenuous. I’m up in the morning, going to the gym and playing in the afternoon, and then back and doing recovery.
“It’s not like I’m doing anything in my spare time, it’s very focused, very regimented, and I don’t stray from it.”
It sounds extreme, but it works. There’s no doubt he’s the man for the major occasion – winning three in the space of 14 months.
Two US Opens, a PGA Championship, and a near miss at last month’s Masters, are the product of that almost freakish attitude to work, a dedication to fitness and nutrition that hit home when watching Dustin Johnson put himself through the mill.
“I got tired of being average,” he added. “I was hanging around Dustin a lot and I watched the way he went about things. I think he was No. 1 in the world at the time and I found things that I liked and I found things that I thought I could improve on.
“So if he’s the best player in the world, why I am not trying to one-up him and do what he’s doing?
“You know, going from only having water for tournament weeks, not drinking soda, not drinking anything else, to eating right, making sure you try to be better about eating on the golf course, making sure you’ve got energy while you’re out there and working out six days a week because three years ago I wasn’t even working out on the road.
“I was just going to the gym when I was at home or maybe a couple of days during the tournament week. Watching him, okay, well, if he’s doing that then I need to outwork him if I want to do it.”
The point is to make sure that when Sunday comes around, Koepka is in the best possible shape he can be.
“I know I can outlast anybody on a four week stretch physically because they’re not going to be doing the things I’m doing from Monday, when we get there, the first week until Sunday.
“Nobody has actually worked harder than me. So I know if I’m putting the right things in my body, then I know that just gives me a little bit of advantage over everybody else.”
Koepka became the first male player since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 89 to defend a US Open title when he tackled a Shinnecock Hills course that lurched into lunacy in the third round.
Now he’ll bid to emulate Tiger Woods (2006 and 2007) – who he held off in fine fashion at Bellerive last August – as he returns to New York looking to keep a firm grip on the Wanamaker Trophy in a PGA Championship that has moved to May.
The site of two US Opens and two FedEx Cup playoff events, the Black course at Bethpage State Park is renowned for its difficulty, and the imposing sign warning players of the challenge that lies ahead.
Koepka, who could only finish tied 70th the last time the Black hosted a big time event at the 2016 Barclays, is well aware of the task.
“Bethpage is an incredibly difficult golf course, it’s hard to even think that it’s a public golf course sometimes,” he said.
“It’s a tight golf course. The fairways are relatively tight, and they’ve got some turn to them. So you’ve really got to pick and choose what you’re going to hit off the tee.
“You don’t always need driver. It’s all about placement. And then coming into these greens, they aren’t as undulating.
“There’s just a constant slope on them. You feel like everything is at a 1 ½ degree slope, and not to go full science on you, but it always feels like there’s a lot of movement in the greens, so you’re trying to figure out the best way to get that uphill putt and not be in a bad spot.
“The greens aren’t necessarily that big, and the rough is going to be pretty deep I would assume. You know if you hit in the rough, you’re going to be struggling to make par.
“It’s fun. It’s definitely a lot different. I feel bad for the guys that have to play that day in, day out. That’s a tough golf course.”
Should he fail to come out on top at Bethpage, Koepka will become one of the shorter-lived champions – his reign lasting only nine months.
But even so, he is still in favour of the PGA Championship’s shift in the season and the narrative to the season that has resulted.
“It’s definitely a lot different but I think it’s a good change. I like the fact that it’s in May. I like the fact that everything is so congested – or feels that way – from The Players in March to the Open in July.
“You’ve got four majors and The Players and you’ve seen guys get hot, and they go for four months where they just play some incredible golf, and hopefully I can set myself up to do that.”
Brooks Koepka on… getting respect
“I don’t want to say it’s blown out of proportion, that I feel like I haven’t gotten the respect I deserve. The point I was trying to make was just that I think if other people had done it, it would be a lot different.
“I know it’s different when Jordan (Spieth) did it because there was no Tiger Woods and now that Tiger is back, obviously that’s going to bring a different atmosphere, a different sense.
“At times it’s frustrating, but I also understand it and I’ve just tried to get on with it because at the end of the day, when I’m sitting there with three major championship trophies, that’s enough.”
Brooks Koepka on… preparing to peak at the right time
“I like to play the week before. Even if you play badly, it’s just kind of a build in, you find some rhythm, find some things you’re doing well and kind of build on that.
“I think when I get to the event, I feel like I’ve got a good base to go off from the week before – no matter how I play, good, bad, and if you play good the week before then it just feels like an added bonus when you get there.
“You really know what you’re going to get. That’s how I felt last year before the PGA. I struggled unbelievably – unbelievably well and then just putted like a dog, and so when we got there, that was really the only thing I focused on was making sure I was starting the putts on line and my speed was correct.
“I told my coach even when we got there, I said ‘don’t even say anything, I’m hitting it good, just stand back there and nod your head and that’s it’, and he did, and it was part of the reason why we won.”
Brooks Koepka’s dash for major glory
Brooks Koepka first shot to major prominence at the 2014 US Open, when he finished tied 4th, and it was at his national championship at Erin Hills three years later where a final round 67 demolished his challengers and brought a four shot win over Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman.
After missing the 2018 Masters with a wrist injury, he returned almost unheralded by most pundits to defend his US Open crown at Shinnecock Hills.
An opening round 75 did little to change those perceptions but 66 on day two and a remarkable 72 on a third day where course conditions caused carnage for many of the leading contenders saw him ominously tied for the lead going into the final day.
A Sunday 68 was enough to hold off a charging Tommy Fleetwood by a shot and make him the first male player to defend a US Open title since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
Koepka moved on to Bellerive for the PGA Championship where a superlative week, including a second round 63 and a final round 66, proved two shots better than Tiger Woods and brought back-to-back major crowns.