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Are golf fans and the media right to judge Brooks Koepka?

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Brooks Koepka’s relationship with observers of the game has been uncomfortable of late. You only have to go back to August of this year, when at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods poured his heart and soul into his final round at the year’s last major with the spectators of St. Louis delivering in kind to create one of the best atmospheres at a golf event in recent years. Koepka that day, received polite applause from the crowd that Sunday evening as he tapped in nonchalantly on the 18th green to win his second major championship title of the year. After the climate that Woods had created, that final scene, it is fair to say, was a little anti-climactic.

Koepka, who ascended to the summit of the game after victory at the CJ Cup on Sunday has come under fire for being an aloof golfer who lacks personality and passion on the golf course. His lack of emotion while competing rubs many people the wrong way, especially ever since he described golf as “kind of boring” in a 2015 interview with Golf Digest.

Koepka’s blasé appearance on the golf course has led to a distant relationship between himself and both golf spectators and the media. The media’s perceived lack of appreciation for Koepka is fueled by his robotic style on the golf course. Unlike, Woods, McIlroy, or Spieth, who express themselves on the course and offer marketable narratives at all times, Koepka is considered dull and lacking a personality.

This lack of appreciation from golf’s media lights a fire under the American. Earlier this year, Koepka displayed the type of emotion that golf fans would love to see on the course when he railed against the media for the lack of attention they give him.

“You’ve got guys who will kiss up, and I’m not gonna kiss up. I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt. I’m here to play golf. I’m not here to do anything else. I don’t need to bend over backwards to be friends with anyone [in the media], but certain guys do that because they want their names written. I’d rather be written about because of my play. Sometimes it does suck, but I’ve started to care less. Come Sunday, I won’t forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don’t forget things.”

It is clear what now motivates Koepka (at least in part): His indignation at the lack of respect he feels he receives from the media has given him the impetus to work even harder, resulting in a career-defining year which saw him bag two majors, the PGA Player of the Year award and the world number one ranking.

Are golf fans unfair to judge Koepka on his emotionally void performances? I don’t think they are. While it’s only right to appreciate the level of dedication, skill, and nerve that Koepka has displayed on his way to the top of the sport, fans of any sport want to root for a player who showcases their thirst for victory as imperative to their being. Think Rafael Nadal, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo etc. Athletes are admired as much for their skill as they are their desire to win that they express outwardly, energizing fans of their sport. Nowadays, sports are as much a competitive activity as they are entertainment. As long as Koepka fails to show how much he wants to win to the public, fans of the sport and the media are not going to show him the adoration and attention that he deserves.

How will Koepka’s personality affect his status in the game of golf?

Should the American continue to claim major titles and hold onto the world number one ranking, will appreciation rise? Probably not. His situation is reminiscent of tennis legends Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. Both world class champions throughout their illustrious careers, yet both failed to capture the imagination of fans due to their stoic and emotionally lacking approach on the court.

While the attention and love Koepka receives currently is limited for someone who is world number one, his unresponsive, passive demeanor doesn’t afford him the luxury of having a dip in form and still staying relative. Woods barely played from 2014-17, yet any news from the 14-time major winner in this period was still box office, while the likes of McIlroy and Spieth who have both suffered substantial dips in form over the past couple of years have received bundles of attention both from the media and from spectators during this period. Koepka does not have the same comfort, and he will need to stay at the top of the game or his limited attention from the golfing world will diminish.

However, it’s difficult to imagine the 28-year-old going anywhere anytime soon though. The three-time major winner has a game designed to dismantle even the most challenging of golf courses. While viewers may be unenthused by BK’s robotic nature, it’s something they may have to accept. Koepka’s feeling of being slighted by the golfing world may have had one of the most positive effects on his career, and as long as he feels unappreciated, he can allow his talent to hit back at his critics.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giannimosquito

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. DaveJ

    Oct 24, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Maybe he needs to do a commercial with John Daly (similar to Sampras and McEnroe back in the day).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2j5GxxrkwU

  2. Brad

    Oct 23, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I don’t think Koepka really cares what you think about him, or what ANY of the media or “fans” think about him as a result of his not pandering to the media and showing faux excitement or interest in the situation or them. Koepka appears to be just what the world needs more of – a real and unpretentious athlete. He’s more Ben Hogan than Arnold Palmer. In the end, both Ben and Arnold were loved and respected in their own way.

    Unfortunately, the “Insta-Face” generations seems to care more about appearance and spectacle rather than actual performance, and that seems to be the only real thing that DOES upset Koepka. I hope that “boring” Brooks goes on to win more tournaments and majors than any of the current generation of players just so he can tell the media and so-called “fans” to stick that in their selfie pipe and smoke it…

  3. BK

    Oct 23, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    I think it does matter how you go about it. If people don’t want to go watch you play or don’t want to watch you play on tv, then golf continues to decline. I think a lot of the pros think there will always be a tour for them to play with millions of dollars available to the winner. Lose the fans and who is going to sponsor these tournaments?

  4. Tim

    Oct 23, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Tigers personality on the course? My how quickly we forget the old Tiger.

    Hmmm… lets see the press is butt hurt because a 3 time major winner wont give them the sound bites they want or time. The guy shows up gets to work and wins. He is an independent contractor and in the end he will be remembered long after a Rickie Fowler based on performance and will be asked his opinion on winning and majors long after his career. Rickie not so much.

  5. Jim

    Oct 23, 2018 at 8:48 am

    I like Brooks and appreciate his game but the point of the article is that he doesn’t let us in, doesn’t look like he is enjoying his job being a game and doesn’t really appreciate the fans. Those traits don’t help his brand and clearly building a brand is important (Rickie). Brooks can take this path but he can’t rationally expect the same treatment as others. It goes both ways. Neither way is wrong but they won’t have the same result.

  6. Steve Dodds

    Oct 23, 2018 at 8:05 am

    What an extraordinarily puerile article.And hopefully one that woefully misjudges its audience at GolfWrx.

    Who cares if Koepka ’emotes’ on cue? Dustin Johnson doesn’t. Freddy Couples didn’t.

    Koepka plays good golf. Best in the world at the moment.

    He doesn’t need to do anything else.

    Will he have ‘the luxury of having a dip in form and still staying relative’?

    Let me put it this way. If you write an article that poorly argued, culminating in a sentence that poorly constructed, you forfeit any right to be taken seriously.

    Gianni may have a degree. And a Diploma!

    But that does not make you a writer.

  7. kmay_

    Oct 23, 2018 at 7:16 am

    Love the guy, I don’t wanna see him curse and spit and slam his clubs on the ground. I think hes the perfect definition of a mentally strong respectful golfer. But I guess people are gonna criticize both ends of that spectrum.

  8. Steve

    Oct 22, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    He is wrong. His job isn’t to play golf. Just like ABC news job isn’t to give news. He is a corporation. He job is to make money.

  9. Johnny Penso

    Oct 22, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    Personally I find it ludicrous that you would even have a discussion about whether it’s right for armchair golf critics/weekend duffers to “judge” a professional athlete. The guy is a human being and he doesn’t fit into a nice, neat, predictable little box for us to evaluate him. So what? What is this obsession with judging celebrities because they don’t conform to our expectations?

  10. Adam Hermsdorfer

    Oct 22, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    The guy wins and has earned the right to be the #1 ranked player in the world. Who cares if he doesn’t display emotion or play the role of media darling. There’s plenty of examples of similar hard nosed players in other sports. If he played a team sport, I’m sure he would be labeled as the type of player who isn’t vocal and leads by example and would rather be seen than heard.

    • Csv

      Oct 23, 2018 at 8:03 pm

      Who cares? Brooks cares. Go back and read his remarks about not receiving enough press attention and fanfare. He’s said it more than a few times and carries a chip on his shoulder because of his self perceived media/press coverage or lack of it. He’s the one that brought this subject to light. In fact I bet this ararticle was written because of Brooks media comments.
      So to answer your question of “Who cares?”, Brooks most definately cares.

      • Terry

        Oct 24, 2018 at 12:22 am

        I absolutely agree. The issue is that Brooks ABSOLUTELY cares. He’s going to remember the people who forgot him? Wow. Petty much? He’s an amazing talent and I could care less if he is emotional on the course but make no mistake he cares. A lot.

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The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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