First, a confession: we nearly canned the idea of debuting the world’s best golfer on our cover this issue.
We know what you’re thinking; What? The world No.1 who wipes the floor with the field in seemingly every big event he enters? Yes.
That 29-year-old genetic marvel whose swing is half Picasso, half Thor. Uh-huh.
The same four-time Major winner with a putting stroke that’s unwavering under the gun, just like a certain 15-time Major champ still doing the rounds? Yep, that’s the one.
Throw in some old-school Hollywood looks that have drawn natural comparisons to Arnold Palmer and seriously, what’s not to love about Brooks Koepka?
The answer to that question is nothing! And yet here was our editorial team, like it had done for months, debating the merits of Koepka as cover material because, as mystifying as it may seem, the jury is still out on whether the golf world agrees.
Yes, he’s a little dull, a little aloof even.
“He doesn’t really have the gift of the gab, does he?” asks a colleague.
“He always looks like he’s playing with a giant chip on his shoulder [read more about that here],” adds another.
And still Koepka continues to respond to the naysayers the only way he knows how, by winning – the universal language of love when it comes to sport. Not so for Koepka. There’s no such romance. Not that he cares.
The American is not the first star athlete to fall victim to what can only be put down to a polarising personality. One of the great comparisons was penned by Golf Digest’s Shane Ryan last year. In September 1986, after Ivan Lendl won the US Open, Sports Illustrated ran a particularly brutal cover featuring a picture of Lendl and the words ‘The Champion That Nobody Cares About’.
“Lendl was a lot like Koepka – an impressive physical specimen, great under pressure and a consummate winner,” Ryan wrote. “That ’86 US Open was Lendl’s fourth of eight eventual grand slams victories, and like Koepka, he had a very direct, flatline personality that contrasted with peers such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.”
If Lendl was the original unloved star, Koepka is Ivan 2.0.
For all of his dominance over the past 18 months, Koepka doesn’t have 1.6 million Instagram followers like Rickie Fowler. He doesn’t have a lucrative equipment deal nor his own range of wagyu beef.
His honesty – a trait we place so much value on in all walks of life – has, at times, rubbed golf fans the wrong way. From blunt opinions like, “Golf is kind of boring, not much action,” to the perceived arrogance in his revelation this year: “I don’t practise for regular tournaments. If you see me on TV, that’s when I play golf,” Koepka’s penchant for calling things as he sees them has shaped a supercilious narrative of the man that’s overpowering the champion golfer.
Thankfully, that narrative is changing, albeit slowly, as people start to realise Koepka isn’t hellbent on slamming the sport for the sake of it. Rather, his frank assessments can actually benefit the game if acted upon.
He should be applauded for teeing off on Sergio Garcia for “acting like a child” when the Spaniard throws a tantrum. We should be singing his praises when he launches into golf’s governing bodies for “not having the balls” to penalise slow play. His most recent dismissal of slow-play commander-in-chief J.B. Holmes at The Open was right on the money: “I’m ready to go most of the time. That’s what I don’t understand when it’s your turn to hit, your glove is not on, then you start thinking about it, that’s where the problem lies. It’s not that (Holmes) takes that long. He doesn’t do anything until his turn. That’s the frustrating part. But he’s not the only one that does it out here.”
Is it possible we have all misunderstood our sport’s new king? Most probably. Does Koepka deserve more of our love? Perhaps.
“It doesn’t matter if the fault lies with the public, the media, or the golfer and his team,” Ryan continues. “The answer is irrelevant, because we’re not truly confronting a question of right or wrong here, but a question of human nature.
“In medieval England, the vast majority of the king’s subjects had no idea what the king looked like – not even in a painting. They certainly never saw the man speak, and they didn’t know his personality. Even so, they summoned strong emotions of love and hate for their monarch. If that was true then, it’s true now – however naively, we believe we can put together an accurate character assessment of a public figure on very little evidence. We label people on the basis of nothing but photographs, videos and calculated publicity campaigns. We hardly see the real person, but we think it doesn’t matter.”
What matters now is Aussies will get a chance to see the real Brooks Koepka in person at the Presidents Cup in December. It presents an opportunity for you to make your own mind up, if you haven’t already.
“Sometimes your haters are your biggest motivators,” Koepka warns.
Given the Internationals’ dire record in the prestigious teams event, it might serve us well to start showing him some love.