It isn’t what people say about Brooks Koepka that gets under his skin and, in turn, fuels him.
It’s what they don’t say about him.
Even though he has won consecutive U.S. Opens, Koepka still feels like he’s flying under the radar as the 28-year-old golfer heads into this week’s British Open at Carnoustie.
The sound of silence is like a bunker rake across the chalkboard for Koepka, ranked fourth in the world. For instance, on the day he won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York last month, a popular sports network used its Instagram account to post some Very Important News: a video clip of NFL receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.
“It’s like, well, he should be able to,” Koepka said Tuesday. “He’s like 6-2. He’s got hops, we all know that, and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?
“But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m kind of the underdog and kind of put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and find that little chip and try to get better and better. … Once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill from there.”
In more than one way, Koepka’s chip game is on point. He also currently bookends an impressive run by U.S. players, who have won the last five major championships. Sandwiched between Koepka’s U.S. Open victories are wins by Jordan Spieth (2017 British Open), Justin Thomas (2017 PGA Championship), and Patrick Reed (2018 Masters).
“I just think the added competition and the better competition, the deeper fields that we’ve experienced in junior and amateur golf led to quick transitions onto the PGA Tour,” said Spieth, 24, who last year joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three legs of the Grand Slam before their 24th birthday.
“So maybe when it took five years to transition guys into winning 10, 15 years ago, it’s taking guys five months now.”
Koepka’s route to the PGA Tour was more roundabout than that of Spieth and some of the players in their early 20s. After leaving Florida State in 2012, Koepka joined the second-tier Challenge Tour, where he won three events over the next year to earn his European Tour card.
The third of those wins was the Scottish Hydro Challenge, meaning the so-called birthplace of golf also played a huge role in the birth of his professional career.
“I didn’t have any options, really many, when I turned pro except to come over here and play,” he said. “I enjoyed it. And I know I’ve said a million times, it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf. … I enjoyed it way more than I probably do now playing on the tour.”
“I was definitely more relaxed,” said Koepka, who collected about $35,000 for winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge, compared to $2.16 million for the U.S. Open. “When we were playing, it felt like the whole tour was on the plane, and then you’d get there and there’s two hotels, and everybody is staying in a small town and goes and eats together. I found that so much fun. The whole restaurant is basically guys that are playing the event and their families or whatever.
“Looking back on it, I wish it probably could have lasted a little bit longer.”
Then again, Koepka wouldn’t be where he is now if he wasn’t supremely focused on moving forward in his career.
“There’s certain steps and I just embraced it,” he said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you make the best of it. Instead, guys just put their heads down and they’re like, ‘Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.’
“Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up where you’re at, make the best of it, and try to win everything you can. Because eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer