The Permission To Be Great
It is truly one of the astonishing characteristics of the human being that we are quick to applaud greatness but even quicker to try and un-do those acclimations.
Case in point is Brooks Koepka. We read an article written last week that suggested that Koepka was an uninterested participant at the Travelers Championship (the week after he was the runner-up in the U.S. Open where he was looking for a 3-peat). Koepka would finish the week in a tie for 57th in a performance in which the superstar from Florida looked tired not disinterested.
Another article minimizes the fact that Koepka had won four of the last eight Majors and suggests that those events were no more important than a regular PGA Tour event. Koepka has won 6 Tour events including his 4 Majors.
Quick; hands up those who think that a regular Tour event is the same as one of the game’s four biggest Championships? Yup, we thought so.
Wayne Levi was a very good player on the PGA Tour and won 12 times in his career which included a Player of the Year crown in 1990 when he won 4 events. Levi’s best finish in a Major was a tie for 11th in the 1985 Masters. You can be forgiven if you have never heard of Levi.
Koepka has finished 1-2-1-2 in the last four Majors that he has played. That alone represents enough credentials to entitle their owner into entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Koepka has done that in the last 10 months which is in and of itself, a record (because of the date change when the PGA Championship moved from August 2018 to May 2019).
The list of other players who have won two Majors in a year is a verifiable list of the game’s greatest players. With his triumph at this year’s PGA Championship, Koepka became the 19th member of an exalted club of men who have done that. Counted in them are: Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth.
And Koepka has won four Majors contested in the last 23 months which could support the argument that he has done this in back-to-back years (we’re cheating, but that is two, half “Tiger Slams”).
The list of players who have won 4 Majors in an 8-start stretch is a lot more exclusive and includes only Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods, and Brooks Koepka.
Koepka became, at 29 years old, only the fourth player under the age of 30 to have won four Majors before their 30th birthday (Nicklaus, Woods and McIlroy) https://www.birdgolf.com/a-fourth-for-koepka/
Koepka is also golf’s version of “Cool Hand Luke”, the legendary Paul Newman character who drips cool and only speaks when he has something important to say. The iconic opening line in the 1967 classic from the warden of the prison Luke is sent to, who says: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Koepka plays with that same cool, almost detached demeanor, which can appear to the outside world that he is not engaged, but that is absolutely not the case.
Koepka is just playing the game the way he is, which is the epitome of performing in your comfort level. Being the way that you are (thank you Mr. Mumford), allows you to be comfortable in any environment whether that is in front of 50,000 people and 50 million TV viewers or a friendly round with your three best friends.
Very few athletes are ever able to reach this nirvana of competition because no matter how great they are, it is almost impossible to be immune to the circus and noise of a major event.
Koepka does it in spades which is what gives way to accusations that he doesn’t care about winning regular Tour events. He plays the exact same way in those events that he plays in the Majors and in doing so sometimes gives an air of “laissez faire”. The difference between him and other players is that he doesn’t let the bigger events get to him and he does exactly that, while others let the tension and circumstance affect them.
Brooks is being Brooks and that is precisely what he should be and how he should be doing it. Brooks Koepka has given himself permission to be great and he is running with that.
There is history being made here and somehow that is something that some people would diminish. Such is human nature, but what Koepka has already accomplished is remarkable.