Brooks Koepka has the look of a man ready to repeat at the PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There’s something fascinating about a man drinking his own Kool-Aid. When they begin to buy into the myth about themselves, because that myth is why this whole thing works in the first place. Brooks Koepka left his fifth major victory convinced of his superpower. He showed up to the U.S. Open last June as the PGA champ, sat in front of a tent full of reporters and evangelized on how he understood majors like no other golfer.

“Double digits, that’s what I’m trying to get to,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of the question for me.”

And all of this is true. Brooks Koepka is the best major champion of his generation, passing Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on the way. He’s the complicated star who never consistently thrived, only winning four non-major PGA Tour events, yet could flip a switch and dominate on the biggest stages. But what happens when you start believing the myth?

Well, he finished nine back of Wyndham Clark that week in Los Angeles. He finished T64 at the Open Championship. He finished T45 at last month’s Masters.

And now Koepka, 34, enters this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club with an entirely different set of messaging. This week he cares. This week he’s focused. He’s been kicking his own butt, giving himself “punishment workouts” the last few weeks as LIV Golf traveled to the other side of the world. He was reminded his 10-month-old son, Crew, had never seen him finish better than 45th in a major championship.

Then he won in Singapore two weeks ago.

“I think the embarrassment of Augusta really kicked things into overdrive for me and really having to put my nose down and grind it a little bit harder and having to look my team in the eye and apologize,” Koepka said in Singapore. “I’m not looking to do that again.”

Koepka is golf’s great big-stage gamer. That has always been his claim to fame, but he also loves feeding this narrative. When he was winning four majors in three years from 2017-2019, he played up how he didn’t really like golf, how he didn’t need to try that hard, that only majors mattered to him and he could just turn it on and off. Then he had knee injuries, and he opened up to Netflix as he seemed lost and distraught with not being the same version of himself before he went to LIV. When he finished second at the 2023 Masters, he could play up the comeback angle, telling tales of punching courtesy car windows in anger after a missed cut. And when he won the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill a month later, he could tell us all how he “fixed” something he did wrong at Augusta but it was a secret he couldn’t divulge. Really, it was all a way to confirm to the world that nobody in golf has the mental fortitude of Brooks Koepka.

Brooks Koepka

The 2023 PGA Championship was the fifth major of Brooks’ Koepka’s career, tying him with Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson, among others. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

But maybe this month’s storyline is Koepka’s newest version of Michael Jordan’s infamous skill of perceived slights and manufactured motivations.

This time, he can use the arc of the humbled man. The embarrassed father trying to show his son who his dad is. This isn’t to say these feelings aren’t real. It’s just that Koepka knows what he’s doing.

“I think Augusta was a good wake-up call,” he said in Singapore. “I’ve had to really grind since then. It’ll be nice to see —  hopefully.”

Sometimes, though, these things just have to do with golf. Koepka’s irons took a big step back this year. At LIV’s event in Miami a week before the Masters, Koepka was spraying balls around and getting by on his great short game. That carried into the next week, when he was in the bottom third in strokes gained approach, lost an entire stroke around the greens and finished T45. Koepka admitted his coach Claude Harmon and caddie Ricky Elliot found that he had his ball too far back in his swing from playing into the wind often this season, creating other issues.

“Didn’t know if it was going to fade or draw for about a month there,” Koepka said. “But I just got into bad habits. It’s all the same thing. We’ve just got to go back to the basics with me.”

But that was one quote. Giving it more than that would make it about the golf, and Koepka’s entire thing is that it’s not about the golf. It’s about competitiveness. Toughness. Resiliency. Mental fortitude. And it works for him.

This is not slander or criticism. This is a warning. Koepka’s greatness always presents itself when he has a carrot to chase or a point to prove. Right now, he has one. At this week’s PGA Championship, Koepka cares. That’s usually bad news for everybody else.

(Top photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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