Brooks Koepka cannot figure out PGA Tour events that don’t also serve major championships. I mean this in the figurative sense — five of his last six finishes in non-majors have been T50 or worse, while five of his last six major starts have been T2 or better — but also in the literal sense. Consider these two quotes from last week’s Travelers Championship, where he finished T56.
Wednesday: “I even told my caddie [Ricky Elliott] today, we’re going to try to take the mental approach we do at the majors this week. I’m going to try something maybe a little bit different and see how it works out.”
Saturday: “I’m dead, I’m fried. I don’t know. It comes from the majors. It comes from being dead from playing so well. [I’m] mentally drained from playing in a major. It happens to everybody. If you’re in contention, you’re going to be drained. If you’re not in contention, it’s a lot easier.”
He’s right about being more cooked after you’re in contention, but he also would have known this coming into the week. And to take it a step further, there is some bigger picture inconsistency here. Koepka said he didn’t know he would be fried and dead at the time he signed up to play Travelers, yet also claims he always expects to win (or at least contend for) majors. Everyone says this, of course, but he’s maybe the most adamant about it. From having won four of them, he has to know that the mental drain of a major week is going to affect his play the week after he’s in contention at a major (which, you know, is all of them).
All of this came in the wake of him essentially saying the Canadian Open (a non-major) didn’t matter and then accusing the media of twisting his words. So as you can see, Koepka can’t seem to figure out events that are not majors.
Koepka is notorious — or has become notorious — for not giving himself over to non-majors. This is smart if your goal is only to win majors, but it also creates a strange dichotomy in which you destroy worlds at the big four and are destroyed by much lesser players at all the rest.
All of this is fine, for the record. I don’t care how many Travelers Championships Koepka wins. I care a lot about how many U.S. Opens he wins or nearly wins. The strange (and thrilling?) part is that I’m not even sure he can properly govern any of this; it’s almost out of his control at this point. He can’t seem to convince or trick himself that the regular season is more than a practice session for Brooks Season.
Tiger Woods once made famous the saying that he was trying to peak four times a year: The Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. We all took that to mean physically, but for him, undoubtedly, it was just as meaningful mentally. This is the part that Koepka has seemingly solved.
Four times a year, he is 100 percent mentally locked in, and the rest doesn’t really matter (because it doesn’t really matter). There is some wisdom in here. If you expend yourself mentally every time you go out, maybe you don’t have that extra 10 or 15 percent to give at majors. The best in the world are the best in the world because they have the most talent, but also because they pick their spots and conserve all of their energy — physically and mentally — for the events they choose to conserve it for.
For Koepka, that’s the majors. I don’t blame him. As DJ Piehowski pointed out recently on the “No Laying Up” podcast, there has probably never been a wider chasm in terms of how we as viewers and media look at and interpret majors vs. non-majors. The problem for Koepka is obviously going to be sustainability. If it’s hard to win non-majors, it’s almost impossible .
No matter how much mental and physical energy he saves up, there’s always going to be somebody having a career week. To this point, Koepka has figured out how to wriggle past that and win four big ones (and just two non-big ones). He has cracked the most important code while not really caring about the sequence to the other one. It’s a good, exciting spot to be in. Now we see how long it lasts.