Brooks Koepka tells Stephen A. Smith how Tiger Woods inspired his career

June 20, 2019

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka sat down with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith from the Travelers Championship on Wednesday and broke down how Tiger Woods changed the trajectory of his career.

The Travelers, held at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., is right in ESPN’s backyard. So it was logical that Koepka joined the Worldwide Leader to break down the week’s event. Smith was most intrigued, however, by how Koepka got his start in the game — specifically, Woods’ impact.

“How much do you feel like he paved a path for guys like yourself and others to follow,” he asked Koepka.

“I don’t even think there’s words for what he’s done to our sport,” Koepka said. “You look at how Tiger moved the sport to being the athleticism you see now — you look at guys from Gary [Woodland] last week to myself to Dustin [Johnson], anybody. These kids that are coming out, 21, 22 years old, and it looks like every one of them could play another sport if they wanted to.”

Golf’s increased athleticism has been on display on the game’s biggest stages of late. Brooks Koepka held off Tiger Woods down the stretch at the 2018 PGA Championship; Woods returned the favor, fending off Koepka and Dustin Johnson at the 2019 Masters. Koepka held off Dustin Johnson at last month’s PGA Championship, and on Sunday, Gary Woodland held off a charging Koepka to win the U.S. Open. Four major championships in a row, each hotly contested by elite-level athletes.

“In every sport, you’re starting to see, bigger, stronger, faster, it’s just simple. And Tiger was — he made golf cool. He made golf cool for kids my age when I was growing up at like, 10, watching him. In ’99, I was like nine years old and golf wasn’t exactly a cool sport to play, nobody was really playing it. For sports fans like me I wanted to watch baseball, basketball, football. And Tiger made it cool to go out and play golf.”

Koepka has now achieved a peak-Woods level of success at the last four majors, finishing 1-T2-1-2. His results at regular PGA Tour events haven’t quite measured up, for whatever reason: he has four major wins versus just two other victories on Tour. This week at the Travelers, he said he hoped to adopt that major mindset.

“I even told my caddie today, ‘We’re going to try to take the mental approach we do at the majors this week.’ I’m going to try something maybe a little bit different and see how it works out.”

Through one round, that strategy hadn’t paid off; Koepka posted a 1-over 71 to open the Travelers on Thursday.