Brooks Koepke’s 36-hole lead in the 2013 Frys.com Open has now turned into a 54-hole lead and been extended to two strokes. He shot 4-under, 67 to move to 15-under for the tournament. He was playing with long-hitters, Robert Garrigus and Jason Kokrak, who both shot 3-under and lost another shot to him.
On Sunday, he’ll be paired with Kokrak again and joined this time by George McNeill who shot a course record tying 62 to leap up the leaderboard to catch Kokrak at 13-under.
Koepke gets two benefits from having McNeill join the last-group party: (1) from a collegiality point of view, they are both Florida State alums, McNeil graduating earlier, and (2) it is axiomatic that when a player shoots a super low round as McNeill did on Saturday, it’s really hard to shoot a low score the next day.
But Koepke seems to be little concerned with what others are doing around him and is content to just play his game with little fanfare. In his opening comments, he didn’t even mention that he birdied three of the first four holes:
Yeah, got off to a good start today. Seem to be doing that every day out here, so that makes the round a little bit easier. Played really solid. Made a couple putts. Lag putting wasn’t very good.
Hopefully work on that and get it prepared for tomorrow.
He gave one of the birdies back on 6, swapped a birdie and bogey on 13 and 14 and then finished strong with birdies on 15 and 17.
He won four Challenge Tour events in Europe — three this year to win his European Tour card — so an obvious question would be where was he on each of those Saturday nights?
I was ahead.
In all four of them?
As a measure of how focused he is in the moment, he was asked what the four tournaments were?
Scotland, Madeira, and then one was in Spain. Trying to remember the other one. I can’t remember. I don’t remember.
How could he not remember each and every one of his wins? Nicklaus not only remembers his wins and losses, he still remembers what he shot in selective rounds (perhaps even all of them, although he hasn’t said that).
With a little prompting, he finally got all four countries: Scotland (won by 3), two in Spain (3) (10) and Italy (7).
And for him, it’s good news that he came away from Saturday’s round with a keen sense of a key indicator of how well he was playing:
Actually struck the ball really well today. Felt like I was hitting it good, hitting all my lines. You know, done that the last two days.
I felt really confident over the short putts today. I felt like I could be aggressive. Obviously I wasn’t very aggressive with the longer putts, but the short ones, they were going in the center of the hole. That’s always a big confidence boost.
One of the mistakes we make with kids we’re trying to develop as competitive golfers is that we use conventional wisdom in our evaluations. “Oh, he just can’t seem to win,” they would have said about Koepke. But somebody must have seen beyond his winning record because he didn’t have any and yet, here he is:
Yeah, you know, it’s kind of funny. I didn’t really win much growing up. I felt like I was always close, put myself in position, and never was able to come through.
You know ever since turned professional I feel like I’ve won more professional events. The Challenge Tour prepared me pretty well. I feel like learning how to win, that is a big deal. Hopefully I can take it over to tomorrow.
Another winning attribute he has is his optimism about his scoring abililty. When many players speak about a prospective round, they speak “hopefully,” as in, “Hopefully I can make some birdies tomorrow.” Not Koepke:
The birdies are going to come. I felt like I made a lot of them this week. I don’t know how many exactly I’ve made. Just got to stay patient. You just got to hang in there.
This expressed in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of hubris or bragging.
And maybe it’s because he’s another young player who Mickelson has let into his famous Tuesday money games. Koepke played in his first one at last year’s U.S. Open and then again at this year’s PGA Championship.
I lost. The PGA, we lost, so I’m looking to get back at him. We played well. Him and Rickie have done a good job beating me. Hopefully we get back at them.
It’s good. I was asking Phil why he does it. Get good preparation on Tuesday. Can kind of assess your game, figure out where you’re at, and on Wednesday work on things, some shots you weren’t able to hit or things like that. Figure out what you need to work on with your game going into Thursday. I think it’s great the way he does it.
Yeah, we’ve been close every time. I think they beat us on 17 at the Open, and our match went to 18 at the PGA. They have been close. Fun though. It’s good fun. Phil is a good guy. I really enjoy playing with him.
And finally, he was asked if this 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour feels any different than his 54-hole leads on the Challenge Tour:
No. Feels the same. It’s all how much pressure you put on yourself. Obviously I think there may be some people that don’t think I can handle it on Sunday just for the fact that I’ve never been sitting in this position.
Just got to take it as it comes and just be relaxed about it. I’m pretty chill, so nothing really bothers me. Don’t get too up or down.
So that, of course, is what we’ll all be watching for on Sunday: can he not put any pressure on himself, can he just be relaxed about it and is there really nothing that will bother him on Sunday?