Hey all, thanks for your patience today…I had a lot of Golf Digest stuff to write this morning on the heels of the PGA Championship. In frivolous material, I took the championship trophy people to task, and on a more serious note, I asked whether Morikawa’s drive on 16 was the best shot ever at the PGA Championship. And now with that done, I’m going to shift gears entirely and write about…golf. More golf.
Brooks Koepka, who was going for his third straight PGA Championship, did something I thought was a little weird on Saturday night. Trailing Dustin Johnson by three strokes, with many players between them, he took repeated shots at DJ in his post-round presser. You can see the quotes here:
One more for good measure: “I was glancing at the leaderboard and of the ten guys that are up there, there’s been, what, three majors?” he continued. “DJ has been in this spot a couple of times and he hasn’t been able to capitalize.”
And that doesn’t include the interview he gave to CBS after the round, where he said basically the same exact thing. In each case, he was on a mission to highlight the fact that the leader, Dustin Johnson, only had one major under his belt. There’s really no way to read this as anything but an intimidation tactic. Koepka and Johnson are supposed to be friends (or were, anyway, until they apparently came to blows at the Ryder Cup), and the words, along with his tone—a little smug, a little tongue-in-cheek—came off too hostile. It’s one thing to have a competitive fire, but it’s another to insult somebody in the service of winning. I try not to be a sports prude, but I thought it reflected poorly on him.
So it was good to see Rory McIlroy chime in and say something similar.
“I was watching the golf last night and heard the interview and was just sort of taken aback a little bit by sort of what he said and whether he was trying to play mind games or not…if he’s trying to play mind games, he’s trying to do it to the wrong person. I don’t think DJ really gives much of a concern that…I certainly try to respect everyone out here…everyone is a great player. If you’ve won a major championship, you’re a hell of a player. Doesn’t mean you’ve only won one; you’ve won one, and you’ve had to do a lot of good things to do that…I mean, sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has.”
The main point there is respect. When Rory was taking on Patrick Reed at the final round in Augusta in 2018, he tried to throw down a gauntlet, making the point that all the pressure was on Reed. (Spoiler: It didn’t go well for Rory.) That was competitive, but to me stood within the bounds of propriety. And frankly, Rory was probably trying to convince himself more than anybody else.
But Koepka’s remarks veered into a strange kind of peevish arrogance. Of course, it went terribly for him. A nightmarish front nine took him totally out of contention, and he stumbled to a 74. Dude wasn’t even on TV.
A lot of writers and fans used the K-word, karma, to describe what happened to him. I’m not sure if I believe in karma or not, since there are too many shitty people in this world who routinely seem to dodge every consequence and fail upward (*cough* White House *cough*), but I do know that it was enjoyable to watch Koepka get his instant comeuppance. Whether there was a spiritual element to it or not, it rules that he struggled on Sunday, making a fool of himself in the process because of his big talk the night before.
It will be interesting to see how this affects his image moving forward. He showed absolutely no remorse for his remarks afterward, and nobody had the balls to ask him about it, so for now there’s really no indication as to whether he learned anything. For the most part, I like Koepka, and I get the sense that his biggest problem is that he’s bought into the myth of himself. Winning majors is hard, no matter how many he’s won recently, and if history is any indication, he’ll probably never have a stretch like that again. Clearly, though, he thought he was invincible this week, and that he could bluster his way to another championship. In the process, he came off very unlikable, and I think that bad taste is going to linger for a lot of fans.
We ask a lot of our champions, but one of the basics is a semblance of morality. We love winners, but we don’t love jerks, and at the very least we demand that our best athletes do a good job pretending not to be assholes. Koepka failed by both measures this week, and it makes the concept of rooting for him a bit uncomfortable. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would ever apologize to DJ, but it’s probably what he’ll need to do. Anything less, and he has to sleep in the bed he made until time makes the memory fade.