How Brooks Koepka went from overlooked amateur to the possible heir to Tiger Woods’ throne

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesBrooks Koepka is doing things not seen since Tiger Woods was dominating golf.
  • Brooks Koepka defended his title at the PGA Championship to stake a claim as the most dominant golfer in the world.
  • Koepka has won three of the last five majors and four in less than two years, a run we haven’t seen since Tiger Woods at his peak.
  • Koepka’s ascent to the top was unusual, and he uses any slight he can find as motivation.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tiger Woods is back to winning majors, but it is a once-overlooked amateur who appears to be in a position to become the heir to Tiger’s throne as this generation’s most dominant golfer.

Brooks Koepka defended his PGA Championship at Bethpage Black and has now won four majors in less than two years, including three of the last five, a run we haven’t seen since Tiger at his peak. While Koepka may never be as good as Tiger was, he looks poised to dominate the way Tiger did.

But it wasn’t always that way. Koepka was often overlooked as an amateur and early in his pro career while several of his contemporaries received all of the headlines and accolades.

Below we take a look at Koepka’s incredible journey to the top of the golf world.


Koepka has athleticism in his DNA. His great-uncle is Dick Groat who played 14 years in the big leagues, was an 8-time All-Star and won the 1960 NL MVP. He was also drafted in the first round of the 1952 NBA Draft.

Hy Peskin/Getty Images

Koepka’s dad Robert played baseball in college and the sport was Brooks’ first love. He once told Golf Digest that he wished he had played baseball instead of golf, saying: “If I could do it over again, I’d play baseball—100 per cent, no doubt.”

Warren Little/Getty Images

Source: Golf Digest


Brooks’ younger brother Chase is also a pro golfer, following big brother’s path on the challenge tour.

Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

At age 10, a car accident sidelined Koepka from contact sports and he spent nearly every day playing golf.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Source: Golf Digest


At age 13, he beat his dad in the finals of the Sherbrooke Golf and Country Club championship, ending his father’s five-year reign as champ.

Sherbrooke Golf and Country Club

Source: Golf Digest


Koepka made his high school varsity golf team in seventh grade. At that point, he told his parents he was going to skip college and go straight to the pros. Koepka said his dad nearly crashed the car and had to pull over to tell Brooks he would be going to college first.

Source: Sway’s Universe


Koepka has admitted that he always competed with a chip on his shoulder and uses any slight as motivation.

Sway’s Universe

“Not being the best [motivated me to get better],” Koepka told Sway’s Universe. “We always talk about how I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder. It rubs some people the wrong way. You know, not being recruited. Well OK, when I was in college I was ready to prove to everybody. I couldn’t wait to tell them, ‘You didn’t recruit me. There you go. I’ll show you.’ And then when you get out, not being the big name, not getting the recognition, not being able to get into tournaments. OK. Watch me. I’m going to find my own way in.”


People overlooked Koepka early on. In high school, he wanted to play college golf at the University of Florida. But when ESPN recently asked him how much interest the Gators showed in him, he simply said, “none.”

ESPN

Koepka instead went to Florida State University.

YouTube/Florida State University

Koepka admitted that he was an “average golfer” when he arrived at FSU, but that he put in “hard work and dedication” and worked on his “mental toughness.”

Seminole Sports Magazine

Source: Seminole Sports Magazine


At FSU, Koepka was a 3-time All-American, a 2-time ACC Player of the Year, and won three tournaments his senior year.

YouTube/Kathleen Foerster

Despite his success in college as an amateur, Koepka was never chosen to represent the United States in the Walker Cup and play alongside contemporaries like Jordan Spieth.

David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images

After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour, Koepka went overseas and played on the European Challenge Tour, the second tier of pro golf in Europe.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

While most might have viewed the move to Europe’s minor league as a setback, Koepka viewed it as an advantage.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

“I felt like it would be good to get overseas and be able to really fine-tune my game,” Koepka said. “Just being able to learn how to travel, learn how to play different shots, learn how to make my game a worldly game, being able to travel to all these places and play different style golf courses.”


In 2013, he played in 25 events in 20 countries, including Kazakhstan, China, India, and Kenya.

ESPN

He travelled so much early in his career that he had to add about 20 pages to his passport “just to be able to travel.”

PGA Tour

He won four events on the challenge tour including his first win as a pro in Spain in 2012 where he won €25,600 (US$29,000).

PGA Tour

The last of those wins came at the Scottish Hydro Challenge in 2013. Koepka nearly withdrew from the event because he was having trouble adjusting to life in a foreign country. Instead, he won the event and qualified for the European Tour in 2014.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Koepka called his time in Europe “the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf,” noting the camaraderie is better among players.

YouTube/BMW Gulfsport

“In Europe, it’s maybe a friendlier atmosphere,” Koepka said. “Guys go to dinner together. In America, everyone has families, so if they are here, they’re with their family. The camaraderie over there is pretty cool. Especially when you get a footy match on. Everyone is there in the bar watching.


Koepka could have come back to the U.S. in 2014, but instead chose the European Tour to improve his game. He did split time on the PGA Tour competing in 16 events states-side.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“I think coming back to the states would have been the wrong move at that time. I got to really focus on golf and dedicated myself,” Koepka said.


In 2014, he had five top-10 finishes, won €1.7 million (US$1.9 million), and picked up a win at the Turkish Airlines Open in Turkey. He also had two top-10s on the PGA Tour and won another $US1.0 million (€930,000).

Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

But in 2015, Koepka did come back to the United States and joined the PGA Tour. He won $US3.6 million (€3.2 million) in his first season and won the Phoenix Open in just his third career start on the Tour.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

At the time, Koepka said his goal was to have a “bunch more wins and a couple of majors” by 2020.

PGA tour

Source: PGA Tour


In 2015, he was passed over for a chance to represent the United States at the Presidents Cup despite a win and eight top-10 finishes that season. Koepka called it “super disappointing.”

Harry How/Getty Images

The lack of respect even extends to his name. Not only do people struggle with his last name, but he says fans often call him “Bruce.”

YouTube/Kathleen Foerster

But the worst came at the 2015 Phoenix Open where was introduced to the crowd as “Brooks Cupcake.” He went on to win the event.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Koepka also felt like he didn’t get the respect he deserved after winning his first major at the 2017 U.S. Open.

ESPN

“[The win was viewed as] a one-off,” Koepka told ESPN. “The course was different. Wide fairways. The wind didn’t blow. People can say whatever. I proved them wrong, I guess.”


In 2018, Koepka missed several months with a wrist injury, including the Masters. Kopeka said it was hard and helped him realise how much he loves competing on the PGA Tour.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

“I watched a lot of [the Masters],” Koepka told ESPN. “I realised I really missed the competition. I miss all this stuff. It was hard to wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Man, what am I going to get up for? I’ve got nothing to look forward to.’ I don’t want to say I was depressed, but it kinda made me appreciate things a hell of a lot more.”


Koepka also used that time away to build another chip on his shoulder, saying he learned who his friends really are on the PGA Tour. When asked by ESPN, Koepka easily named the only three golfers to call him while injured: Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Phil Mickelson.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

“[The toughest part of being away from the game was] the phone stops ringing. People stop calling,” Koepka said. “That was kind of a hard part for me. I don’t want to say that I am an emotional guy, but I kinda am. You really find out who your friends are … I heard from Phil, and obviously Dustin, and maybe Bubba. Three. That was it.”


Since returning from the injury, Koepka has been on a run we haven’t seen since Tiger Woods, winning three out of the last five majors and finishing second in another.

Ben Jared/PGA TOUR

But Koepka isn’t just winning majors at a Tiger-like pace, he is also shattering records while doing it.

Warren Little/Getty Images

His winning score of 16-under at the 2018 PGA Championship was the best ever for that major.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

And at the 2019 PGA Championship he set the record for the lowest 36-hole score at a major (128) and his opening round 63 tied the tournament record and set the course record at Bethpage Black. He also set the records for largest leads after 36 and 54 holes at the PGA Championship (7 strokes).

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

He is also starting to get recognition for international competitions. In 2016, he was a big factor in the United States’ win at the Ryder Cup, going 3-1 in matches.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

On the course, Koepka is part of a new generation of golfers who believe aim is overrated and the most important factor is just to hit the ball long. He even said it with a sorry-not-sorry shrug.

Golf Channel

“Being in the fairway, I think the fairways are a little bit more overrated,” Koepka told the Golf Channel. “You can bomb it, and it doesn’t really matter where it goes. I’m going to have wedge when guys are going have a 6-iron, plain and simple. I can still stop [the ball on the green] out of the rough with a 9-iron before people can stop it out of the fairway with a 6-iron.”


Koepka is coached by Claude Harmon III, the son of legendary instructor Bruce Harmon. Koepka credits the younger Harmon for making his driver such an effective weapon.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Source: Golf Digest


One thing Koepka doesn’t have like Tiger is seemingly Woods’ love of the game. Koepka once called golf “kind of boring, not much action,” and says he would prefer the sport if they only played 14 or 15 holes in a round.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Read more: The leader of the PGA Championship said that golf ‘gets boring from like hole 5 to 12’ and suggested that people should just play 14 instead


But like Tiger, Brooks Koepka is fanatical about being in shape, building strength, and being an athlete more than a golfer.

YouTube/Golf.com

“You want to outwork everybody, and you want to beat everybody,”Koepka told Golf.com. “You put in the work and the results will come.”


He works out at the Joey D. Golf Training Center in Jupiter, Florida with buddy Dustin Johnson and Joey D.

YouTube/Golf.com

“It’s fun,” Koepka told Golf.com. “When you get all three of us in there on the road, even at home, we’re all pushing each other, trying to make everyone better.”


Koepka is a big fan of hip hop artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Lil Wayne, and listens to Yo Gotti’s “Down in the DM” before every tournament.

Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photobank

Source: Sway’s Universe


Koepka is not above speaking his mind on fellow golfers, famously getting into a war of words with Bryson DeChambeau over slow play.

SiriusXM

Read more: A feud about slow play in golf has been brewing all season, and it could come to a head at the Masters


Koepka admitted on SiriusXM that if he is playing with slow golfers he will intentionally slow their group down, even more, to draw attention to their pace. That way, his group will get warned for slow play and it will force everybody to speed up to a pace Koepka prefers.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“You definitely get that ‘Oh, really? It’s going to be a long day’ kind of thing [when paired with certain players],” Koepka told SiriusXM. “I have a different approach. I try to actually slow us down which is part of the problem. Some of these guy are so slow, I will take my sweet time getting to the ball. If I don’t have to go to the bathroom, I will just go to the restroom, and just kinda chill in there for five minutes so we get on the clock. Now we’re playing at my pace.”


Koepka also isn’t afraid to take shots at his fellow golfers like Tiger. Koepka said winning majors is easier than other tournaments because there are only a handful of players who are talented enough and mentally strong enough to compete with him.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

“There’s 156 [players] in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat,” Koepka said before the 2019 PGA Championship. “You figure about half of them won’t play well from there, so you’re down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just – pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.”

Read more: Brooks Koepka threw shade at his PGA Championship competitors as he explained why majors are the easiest tournaments to win


But even though Koepka is now the best golfer in the world, he said he is still looking for chips to put on his shoulder.

Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“You’ve always gotta find some slight,” Koepka told Tom Rinaldi. “You’ve gotta find something, something to keep pushing you. To beat all the records. To beat my own records. To beat whatever it might be. It is one of those things where you know not everybody will be rooting for you. But at the same time, sometimes haters are your biggest motivators.”


According to ESPN, Koepka even keeps this 2018 list of their 20 most dominant athletes in the world as the screensaver on his phone. His name is not on the list.

Twitter/Brooks Koepka

Nobody is going to say Koepka is as good as peak-Tiger or that he is going to change the game the way Woods did. But in terms of sheer dominance, Koepka is getting close. And while other golfers have had runs in recent years, like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Rose, this one feels different.

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR

If Koepka can keep finding chips for his shoulder, we might finally be seeing the next great golfer to dominate the sport for years to come.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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