The Incredible Brooks Koepka
He has one of the most unusual winning records in the history of the PGA Tour; 6 PGA Tour victories, 4 of them major championships. It’s not necessarily the amount that stands out as strange, but the ratio.
For comparison, Jack Nicklaus finished his carer with 18 majors and 55 non-major PGA Tour wins (73 total), Tiger has 15 and 66, Arnold Palmer had 7 and 55, Gary Player has 9 and 15, Tom Watson won 8 and 31, and Phil Mickelson is at 5 majors and 39 non-majors. Brooks, in case you didn’t do the math, comes in with 4 majors and 2 non-majors.
Twice as many majors as “regular season” wins is crazy. That’s almost like an NFL team winning two games in the regular season (and somehow clinching a playoff berth, but this is hypothetical, so we’ll ignore that impossibility) and winning the wildcard game, first round, conference championship, and Super Bowl.
Sure, there are some other greats in the game who have similar ratios as Brooks. Bobby Jones won 7 professional majors (13 total) and a small handful of non-major professional wins. While Harry Vardon had 7 majors championships and no other non-major professional victories, but both of those guys played most of their golf in the pre-PGA Tour era (circa 1929). Not to mention, the game was much different when it came to professionals and amateurs; it’s no secret that Jones never actually played professionally, so he didn’t even get an invite to the PGA Championship after winning the Grand Slam in 1930.
There’s also the guys like Seve Ballesteros (5 majors, 4 non-major PGA wins) and Nick Faldo (6 majors, 3 non-major PGA wins) who, on the surface, have a win ratio close to Brooks’, but even that doesn’t stand up. Both of those guys spent most of their career on the European Tour, where they racked up 45 & 24 non-major victories respectively. Brooks has spent some time on that tour too, but only has 1 European Tour victory that’s not a major.
You’d expect a guy with 4 majors to perform a bit better in non-major events. After all, non-majors tend to have weaker fields, making them easier to win. Brooks would disagree though.
“I think sometimes the majors are the easiest ones to win.”
- Brooks Koepka
The point is, Brooks is different than any other player we’ve seen before. Something happens to him when the lights shine brightest. He gets angry, he feels disrespected, ignored, and he wants to make people pay for not giving him his due. It’s almost as if…
…there was an “accident.”
In the Marvel universe of comic books, Dr. Bruce Banner was accidentally exposed to massive amounts of gamma radiation during an experiment, which gave him the ability to transform into the Hulk; a temperamental superhuman with oversized muscles.
Brooks, on the other hand, seems to have had a series of “accidents” that all feed him on the biggest of stages. The first “accident” may have occurred in high school when he wasn’t offered a scholarship to the school he wanted to play for; the University of Florida. Then, he was accidentally snubbed from the Walker Cup team, even though he probably deserved a spot. Finally, once he got to the PGA Tour, there’s been a constant stream of less obvious “accidents” that came from the golf media’s refusal to recognize his talent and toughness.
After the radiation event, Dr. Banner received a special ability. When something made him angry, the Hulk came out. He couldn’t stop it or contain it. The fury and power were something you didn’t want aimed in your direction. There’s a famous line that’s credited to the Incredible Hulk;
"Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Something tells me there’s a voice inside Brooks Koepka’s head that says the same thing. After that “no offer” from Florida, he decided to play for their biggest rival, Florida State. His alter ego emerged and catapulted him on to becoming a three-time All-American.
After college, he turned pro like many top college amateurs do, but elected to play overseas for a few years. Even after winning one, two, and three majors before his 30th birthday, he still didn’t receive enough praise to satisfy his appetite. Golf analyst, Brandel Chamblee, when talking about who could challenge Tiger Woods for top golfer in the world, still refused to notice.
“…you’d have Dustin and Rory who are the likely two who could hang with him (Tiger)…So it’s really only two players who could challenge him (Tiger).”
- Brandel Chamblee
One thing’s for sure, Brooks did.
Cue the Hulk.
Brooks let out the monster within and it propelled him to a fourth major victory this past weekend at Bethpage Black. There’s no doubt, when it comes to major championships, Brooks becomes the Incredible Hulk of the golf world. Angry because the golf media and fans continue to root against him, not believe he’ll be competitive, or recognize his greatness, Koepka continues to dominate.
The thing about Hulk is, he has an alter ego; the aforementioned, Dr. Bruce Banner, a fairly tame man by comparison. In the grand scheme of things, Dr. Banner is less significant, less noticeable. That’s probably why the Hulk doesn’t get noticed ahead of major championships in the first place, he’s been almost absent the other 15-ish events he plays in each year.
As Dr. Banner, Brooks Koepka’s non-major playing-self, he’s beatable in every way. There’s, seemingly, nothing to fuel him to a win. As for his legacy, the lack of non-major PGA victories won’t matter much. For now, it’s just interesting to note that this alter ego exists and has the potential to appear if he’s not absolutely irate.
Like the Hulk, there’s some debate over whether Brooks is a hero or a villain. To be honest, the jury is still out for me. I love watching him play. He makes everything look easy and his swing is, in a word, powerful. He definitely has the potential to be one of the game’s greatest; mentioned in the same breath as Jack, Tiger, and Bobby when his career is over. That is, if he continues to triumph in majors.
At the same time, he’s been very vocal about his feelings towards the game of golf; basically, he thinks it’s boring. If you’re looking to grow and promote a sport, that’s probably not the attitude you want from your best player.
There’s another question for me though. Will he continue to receive the disrespect he needs to fuel his Hulk-ish attitude that could help him win 10+ majors? At some point, (which is probably sooner rather than later) he’s going to start receiving the praise he deserves. If that happens, will he continue to win when there’s little to be upset about?
Part of me hopes he does, part of me hopes he doesn’t. I guess I have a little bit of an alter ego in me as well. Regardless, I can’t wait to find out what the future holds for the Incredible Brooks.