PGA Tour professional and four-time major champion Brooks Koepka speaks with the media prior to the 2020 Players Championship, an event that he has yet to capture victory at but does have the course record in his name
PGA Tour: Brooks Koepka talks with the media and previews 2020 Players Championship
AMANDA HERRINGTON: We would like to welcome Brooks Koepka to the interview room here at THE PLAYERS Championship. Brooks, when we look at the course record at this course, your name’s on it, had success here. Thoughts going into the week.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, hopefully it’s a good week. Obviously I’m going I’m not playing that good, so hopefully can right this ship and figure out how to get the ball in the hole, score a little better. Everything seems to kind of be piecing together piece by piece, and good memories of this place, I like it, played it a lot growing up. In college we would sneak over here a couple times a year, so hopefully that can bring out some good mojo.
AMANDA HERRINGTON: Open it up to questions.
Q. It was reported that you went to go see Butch. I’m wondering when you decided it was time for a fresh set of eyes. I know you said that you still have the same coaches and stuff, but what prompted the decision to fly out there?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It was something that Claude’s always going to be my coach, Pete’s always going to be my short game coach. I had spoken with them on Saturday, I think I made a phone call to Claude and it’s one of those things I felt like I just I had so much going on in my head, so many swing thoughts and needed to clear the slate, and the Harmons are family to me, and so we flew out Sunday, went and saw Butch Monday, and got in yesterday afternoon.
Q. That was the first time ever taking a lesson from him?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No, Butch has seen me swing it a million times, he knows — I’ve seen him at Floridian a million times and he’s stood there when I’m hitting balls with Claude and he’s stood there at the Ryder Cup. It’s one of those things where I just needed a different set of eyes, maybe something might click, because I was failing.
Claude was giving me, telling me the same things he’s said for five years, the three keys that we have just worked on, and for some reason I just couldn’t do it. That’s on me. It’s not on Claude, it’s not Claude’s fault, it’s not Pete’s fault, it’s not anybody’s fault except my own, and the fact that I couldn’t do it, I just needed a fresh set of eyes just to look at it and see if he saw anything out of the ordinary. And the beauty of it is Butch has seen it so many times. So it was good for me to go out there. I had Claude’s blessing. I called Claude, I told Pete, and they were all behind it.
Q. Certainly every professional athlete has had ups and downs in their careers; what was the difference in this one? Was it confidence? Why were you just feeling different with this downturn?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I wouldn’t — it wasn’t that I was feeling different, I just couldn’t match everything everybody was telling me to do. You go through feelings where sometimes they say release the club or hold it off, whatever it might be, and it’s fairly simple but right now for whatever reason it just felt difficult, I couldn’t do it. That’s me being aware of where the club face is or being aware where my path is, where I’m set up, different things like that, but that’s all on me.
Q. Wondering, for somebody who has accomplished so much already in golf, how difficult is it for you to make changes like that, which are I’m assuming incredibly significant.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Not really, it’s pretty fundamental stuff, I just wasn’t doing it, to put it very bluntly. You fall into bad habits, yes, and sometimes you just got to work your way out of them. What Butch said, I mean he saw it in four swings, I think, and told me a couple things and I had planned on being out there all day Tuesday and except he told me to fly home, fly out here, or well, not fly home, fly here, and get out here and practice, because he felt like everything was on the right track and now it’s our job to make sure that it progresses and it progresses nicely with Claude.
Q. Your record here, obviously you’ve had some good mojo here. Oftentimes it just takes one good round or two to kind of snap things out of it. What would a good day tomorrow do for you, do you think, in terms of just kind of —
BROOKS KOEPKA: It just takes one shot. It’s there sometimes right now and then it’s still — I still resort back to the old habits, old things. It’s getting close, I’ve said that for weeks and weeks, but now it’s just getting more consistent. I felt I had something to build on, I putted a lot better Saturday, and then Sunday I definitely putted better. Other than a little hiccup there on 1, which was just me lapsing in concentration.
But I’m progressing, and every year we’re in this slump — we had a little bit of a team meeting, my whole team yesterday for about an hour, hour and a half, just trying to go over everything and make sure everybody’s on the same page and knows what we’re at, what we’re trying to accomplish, and a lot of that is on my shoulders. I haven’t done maybe the best job of doing everything I need to do.
Q. How much has the knee had an impact on this, or is it more the layoff from the knee that the three months away or so?
BROOKS KOEPKA: My knee’s fine. My knee’s exactly where it should be. It’s just a matter of execution, taking care of what I need to take care of. It has nothing to do with my knee. It’s all me not being able to do what Claude’s told me to do, what Pete’s told me to do, Jeff on the putting. That’s me, whether it’s lack of concentration, focus, decisiveness, whatever it might be, that’s all on my shoulders, it has nothing to do with anybody else.
Q. Do you know what it is? Is it lack of focus, concentration?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No, that’s kind of what we were going over yesterday. Making sure we’re a little bit more decisive. I think maybe it has been a little bit of lack of concentration, because I go into a major, and a perfect example is 6 at Honda. You pull one in there off the tee, which in a major I never would, I would be so scared of hitting it in the water I would hit it to the right, make sure the miss is to the right. And then we drop one and then I hit it in the water again where I would never make sure that miss is left on any of those holes.
My misses right now are in the worse possible places. I’ve short-sided myself, I’ve put it where it’s very penalizing. When you’re playing good, you hit things and your misses are in the correct spots. And even if you’re playing bad, you need to make sure that you choose the right shot shape, the shot where you want to miss it and things like that.
I think that’s — I see the shot in my mind and I just haven’t executed and when you’re on that’s perfectly fine, but sometimes when you’re off you need to understand that center of the greens are good and that’s where you want to be.
Q. Do you think if the TOUR pulled you aside and whispered into your ear, this is a major this week, do you think it would help?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It doesn’t matter. I try my ass off in every tournament. It’s just, I take it up a notch, I don’t know, it’s very hard to explain. I think someone said this yesterday in the meeting, that I have a hard time accepting that I’m going to make mistakes in a regular TOUR event, but in a major I seem to know that I’m going to make mistakes and I just want to minimize those. I think that was kind of perfectly said. I try to be too perfect out here a lot of times and try to never miss a golf shot, try to win it with my iron play, my driving, when a lot of the times it’s not how you win.
Q. On a lighter note, you just had your feature in GQ; you’re a pretty fashionable guy. A couple things that have gotten some attention lately had EVR’s joggers, you had Adam Scott rocking pleated pants, and I’m curious if Nike came to you with either one of those, would you be willing to say yes to pleated pants or joggers?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Well, Nike’s already come with joggers. They did that.
Q. You’ve worn them?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I’ve worn them, yeah. Not in a tournament but they were the first ones to do them out here.
Q. Have you ever turned down any apparel that Nike put in front of you?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No.
Q. What about pleated pants; would you turn those down?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, those are in right now.
Q. What does Chase need to do with his game to get out here?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t know. I haven’t been around him playing too much as of late. It’s all about opportunity. I think the hardest part is getting here. It’s easier to stay here than it is to get out here, for sure. He tried Europe, and I won’t say he didn’t like it, but he wanted to make the transition over here and missed — well, I guess got conditional status on Korn Ferry, and there are times when I’m out here and I’m like I know he can play out here. But at the same time he’s got to wait for his opportunity, take advantage of it when he can and that’s — I mean there are guys that deserve to be out here that aren’t out here, just plain and simple. It’s all about the timing and when they have, if they timed it up right.
Q. Does he have a good eye for your swing and vice versa?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I can’t tell anybody. Everybody loves to ask, like amateurs, like what am I doing, and I know how to hit it, I don’t know how to coach. But, yeah, I mean, I’ve watched him hit balls so much, I know pretty much how he lines up, how he sets up, and I can see things like that, but he’s played fine. I think a lot of times it’s his expectations and, look, I don’t envy him at all, he’s in a very tough spot and a lot of times I really feel bad for him being the younger brother and then having me. I really do feel bad for him. It’s not fun.
If he ever steps in an interview room like this, 90 percent of his questions are about me, they’re not about him. So I feel real bad for him a lot of the times, and sometimes as a family it’s about picking him up a little bit and make being sure that he has got the confidence, he’s got what he needs to be successful and not always hear about me. You even hear it when he goes to a golf course, a lot of times the only questions he gets asked are about me, and I give him a lot of credit, I couldn’t be in those shoes.
Q. Do you feel like you’re relatively receptive to a lot of this stuff? Are you too hardheaded at times?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Too what?
Q. To the changes that you’ve been talking about, even before when people would tell you things, do you feel like you soak them in or do you feel like you didn’t process them the right way?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It’s funny, we talked about this last night in our meeting. I think if you would have — what’s made me successful is I don’t listen to anybody. I listen to my coach, my team, everybody inside. I’ll do what they ask, I’ll do what’s needed and I don’t tinker. I don’t tinker with clubs, I don’t make changes on anything and then all of a sudden I kind of veered off the path of all right, well, let’s try this, I think this is going to make me better, when it got me to world No. 1, it got me four majors, seven wins out here. Why am I changing that?
I think I’ve always laughed because you see guys do it before you. They make changes right when they get to the top to improve and the intent behind it is really good, but at the same time a lot of these things are what makes me successful, what makes me tick. And that’s what I’m trying to go back to right now is make it very fundamental, very simple and keep the main thing the main thing. Keep those three points I worked on with Claude for five years and that’s the only thing we have ever worked on and that’s what we’re going to.
Q. The other thing, one thing that Butch seems to be very good at is not only looking at your swing and making comments but making you think better and feel better about where you’re going. Did you feel like he helped you somewhat mentally in that just time, that little time you had with him this week?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It was good. It was nice to get out there and go see him. Obviously I hadn’t seen him in, it’s been awhile, since he’s not out here. But every time I’m around Butch I enjoy it, you get a nice laugh and, yeah, I think that’s one of Butch’s — yes, he’s a great golf coach, but at the same time he’s a great motivator, big team guy when he’s standing there. So that was nice to see. But at the same time, so was Claude and so was Pete.
I’ve got, I think, the best team around me. And those guys do the same thing. I think it’s in the Harmons’ blood for a little bit of motivation and confidence and that’s probably the reason why Claude stays with me at our house. Every time we get a house he stays with me, and it’s definitely in their DNA.
Q. There are a few holes during the whole calendar of the year that can be so decisive on winning or losing, like 17 and 18 here. Can you describe these holes and what makes them so special, especially in a, let’s say, pressure situation on the final day, for example?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, I’m probably not the guy to ask about 17. I think I’ve probably played it the worst out of anybody probably the last five years. But I mean, yeah, you just got to pick your shot, be decisive about it and obviously hit the green on 17 and you’re going to have a good chance the way it’s kind of broken up in those three little quarters. Then 18, we usually play with 3-iron, 3-wood, somewhere out there on the right and then try and let my ball striking take over and be successful that way.
Q. There’s so many big events cancelled throughout the world. European Tour has cancelled due to this coronavirus. Have you thought a single second about maybe not attending here or how did you guys handle this whole situation at the moment?
BROOKS KOEPKA: This is the TOUR’s biggest event. I’m not going to skip it.
Q. Can I ask you a little bit more about what Butch was asking you to do or what he was seeing in your swing? And I’ll say this based on some things that Paul Marchand, who works with Fred Couples, told me about Fred’s swing many years ago. This could be 25 years ago, and he said all golfers get tendencies and they tend to go back into some tendency that they had and it’s important to have a coach who has an eye who understand that swing, and what he told me was he said for instance Fred is very limber and for him that’s a problem. He gets too loose and then his shots will spray or his timing gets off or something. So with you was Butch trying to get you back to something that you had done in the past correctly?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah. Yeah, it’s —
Q. Was he just in his language was able to —
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, golf’s just a — we could see it on video and what I was trying to do and didn’t know how to get there. There’s a few things that were wrong and the two things he told me were what same thing Claude’s been telling me but just in a different way and it clicked or it felt better. I can see it in the film now when we’re on the driving range or on the golf course like today, the positions it’s in is a million times better. I’m pleased with it. It goes through your whole golf bag, your whole swing, all your tendencies go through your whole golf bag.
Obviously I’m a fader of the golf ball. You can see it probably in my putting; my putting is not exactly the perfect stroke, but at the same time I come over it a little bit and it’s just like my golf swing. And when you get bad tendencies they seem to go all the way through your putting, and that’s why I’ve struggled so much.
So everything is, it’s gone throughout the bag and I think that it’s taken from what Claude and Pete and Butch have said and it’s — I’m on the right track. I think I just needed a little bit of reassurance for myself like — listen, Claude knows my swing as good as anybody, but I needed a little bit of reassurance for myself that I was making the right choices and that’s — and, you know —
Q. Butch has a great eye.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, he does, he’s got a great eye and at the same time so does Claude. To have — it was important to me for me to get Claude’s blessing to go out there because if I didn’t I don’t know what I would have done.
Q. On a hypothetical, if it ever reached a point where there were, where there were no fans on the golf course, which I’m sure you probably experienced on the Challenge Tour I would imagine, what would be the upside and downside to that?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t really know if there would be an upside to that. It’s kind of fun playing in front of fans. You can hear the “ohhh” when you miss it, you know, you hear the cheer when you make it. It kind of gets you a little bit pumped up. It gets you excited and you really feel like you did something. I mean we’ve played a couple events, a couple rounds I should say with no fans, and it’s — we talk about it as players when we’re out there during that round, it’s very weird, it’s awkward. You don’t have that momentum, you don’t have, I guess, the momentum of the fans or the cheering and it’s kind of hard to get excited, especially sometimes when you can’t see where the flag is and you don’t know if it’s 15 feet or it’s tight. It’s a lot easier when there are fans there.
Q. Have you had a chance to play Michael Jordan’s new golf course?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I have not, no. No. I’ve stuck with Medalist. I’ve been at Medalist for awhile practicing and at the Floridian just practicing. I haven’t — if he wants to give me a membership, yeah, I’ll go out.
Q. You said after Honda with the issues with your putting then was just you hadn’t been out there a lot because of the knee, just with the layoff. Is that the root of all of this, do you think, as much as anything, was just not playing a lot and having those three months off?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I think it had a little bit to do with something. I think it’s only been 22 rounds since August. I mean, that’s six months that’s not really a lot of golf. That’s why I played last week just to get some rounds and it’s great to be hitting it on the range, but you need to have that competitive — understand when you’re trying to hit a shot under pressure what it does and the unfortunate thing is probably halfway through the season and I’m still trying to figure it out.
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
March 11, 2020
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