By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – Brooks Koepka received lots of plaudits for his PGA Championship victory on Sunday and the American will no longer be able to slip into major championships almost unnoticed as he has become the man to beat for the foreseeable future at least.
Winning four major championships in eight starts tends to make a golfer hard to ignore, not that his two-stroke victory over compatriot Dustin Johnson at Bethpage Black on Sunday surprised his peers as he retained his title.
Graeme McDowell, who will return to Pebble Beach next month for the U.S. Open after his victory there in 2010, described 29-year-old Koepka as a cross between Tiger Woods and Johnson.
“To me Brooks is like Dustin with Tiger’s mind, a phenomenal athlete with an incredible mindset, able to go to this deep dark place that not a lot of golfers can find,” the Northern Irishman said on Sunday.
“I hope he really stamps his authority on world golf because he deserves to be there.”
Koepka openly acknowledges playing with a chip on his shoulder because he does not believe his achievements have received the praise they deserve. It is a mindset McDowell envies.
“You can’t teach somebody to think the way that Brooks Koepka thinks. I wish I could… use negativity the way he’s able to use it.
“Tiger was very different from that. Tiger could go to a different place mentally than the rest of us could go to, but Brooks gets himself there via the little chips, via the negative comments he gets from people.”
Former world number three Paul Casey puts Koepka in an elite class of players that he has seen over his two decades on tour.
“His physical attributes on the golf course put him in a category that only one or two guys can really compete with when he gets going, Dustin and Rory (McIlroy) and some other guys, J.T. (Justin Thomas) probably,” said the Englishman.
All four of Koepka’s major wins have come on courses where power was key, but next month’s U.S. Open and July’s British Open at Royal Portrush will test whether he can dominate on courses where finesse is just as important as brute strength.
Not that power is ever a bad thing but, like a Ferrari stuck in rush hour traffic, there are places where that extra power cannot really be put to good use.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, who has been stuck on four major wins since 2014, said the biggest challenge Koepka faced was being able to manage his time wisely with the extra demands and financial opportunities being world number one bring.
“Big thing for me was… saying no to things, just making sure that golf and your performance is still the number one priority,” McIlroy said.
“When you start to win majors and you start to get all these opportunities, you have to make the most of those, as well, because, at the end of the day, we’re here to make a living, but at the same time you have to make sure that your performance stays where it needs to stay,” he added.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris)