Playing in Sunday’s final group of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC of Scottsdale, Brooks Koepka began three strokes behind the overnight leader, Martin Laird. But just when you would have wanted a more robust start, he came out flat. It wasn’t consequential in the end, but it didn’t help that Hideki Matsuyama eagled the first hole right out of the gate:
Yeah, it was kind of funny. At Frys, I can’t remember who I was playing with, final round, someone had holed out on the first hole, also. My caddie just looked at me, and he said, ‘Here we go again.’
But it was — I had to stay very patient. I don’t want to say it was frustrating or hard, but I just had to hang in there and wait till the back 9. I played the back 9 well all week and just trying to stick it out for those couple par-5s and especially [the driveable] 17.
It was good that he had that attitude because he didn’t make a birdie until 6…and then 7. Sticking it out for the par-5s paid off; he birdied 13 and eagled 15. His drive on 17 was so good, the ball went through the green and stopped on the red hazard line six inches from being unplayable in the water. Those are the kinds of breaks that need to go your way when you win. He likes those finishing holes:
I think an unbelievable finish. There is so much risk reward. And if you hit a couple of quality golf shots, you can really make a move, whereas, you know, the opposite, you hit one bad one, and you can run up a number pretty quick. Luckily I was able to pull some shots off.
Martin Laird found that out the hard way. He blocked his 5-wood on 17 way right into the middle of the fans on the hill and made bogey. On 18, he hooked the same 5-wood deep into the water hazard left. :
And then 18 it was 5-wood again, and I guess it was overcompensation for the one I hit on 17. You know, [Koepka and Matsuyama] hit driver, but for me it’s a perfect 5-wood, 9-iron like I did the second time around.
I was still in the moment on 18. I knew I could birdie the last and force a playoff. But I wasn’t standing on 18 thinking about 17. 17 was gone. I was focusing on trying hard to draw a 5-wood, and unfortunately it didn’t pay off.
This is so the nature of golf and life itself: Koepka goes for the brass ring, fate smiled on him and he wins by one. Laird led all day, went for it and it turned into a life lesson in failure.
Koepka knows all about that. He has paid his dues over the last three years or so. I wrote about the 36-hole lead he had at that Frys.com Open in October of 2013 and his compelling background in, “Brooks Koepka: Yet Another Interesting Golf Character.” He had missed Q-School by two shots along with Jordan Spieth and it detailed some of his adventures going to Europe to play on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour as a way to build world ranking points to get to the PGA Tour.
I have worked hard. In the last three years I have seen it pay off. You look at the failures. I have put myself in position quite a few times. I just haven’t gotten it done. But like I said, I’m just learning from it.
I’m still learning as I go, trying to pick guys’ brains, playing practice rounds with guys that have won majors. I think that’s important to me because they have got experience around the golf course. They know how to win, and just picking their brains is a big thing for me.
This is all part of living life in possibility rather than being overwhelmed by failures and obstacles. For Koepka, it’s all about playing in majors and becoming a world class player and it’s his drive that’s going to get him there:
But my drive, I think, is what it is. You know, I want to be the best player in the world. I’m not there yet, and I know it’s going to take time, but I want to get to that point.
This is part of the transformation process, to not only have the thought that you want to be the best player in the world, but to get those words to come out of your mouth sitting in the media center with bunch of critical reporters…and to do that without any self-consciousness about it.
It is this emboldening sense of themselves that has caused all of these young players to seemingly come out of the woodwork all of a sudden. I’ve been writing about Justin Thomas all week. Daniel Berger made a big splash this week too. I started writing about Patrick Reed when he and Justine Monday qualified six times back in 2012. Jordan Spieth played his way onto the Tour through sponsor exemptions that led to his first win and Rookie of the Year. Matsuyama would have to be in that mindset too; you don’t become as successful as he has become in a strange culture unless you have a strong sense of yourself.
These are all parts of the mastery process building blocks. Yes it’s absolutely necessary to have the skill sets, but the key is knowing how to realize them…and then exploiting them. You could do no better than watching all of these young guns as they go about it.