In 2016, Brooks Koepka earned more than $3 million on Tour and had a red-hot Ryder Cup. But that’s not good enough for the 26-year-old. He wants to win now—and to win big. Next stop: Augusta.
What would success look like to you in 2017?
I definitely need to win. Last year, I underachieved big time.
Really? You earned more than $3 million in official money, had two runner-up finishes, and helped the U.S. win the Ryder Cup. That’s not good enough in your book?
I didn’t win, and it pissed me off quite a bit, to be honest. My mind always works five steps ahead of where I am, so I think I need to win a major or two in the next two years. If I don’t, I feel like I’d be underachieving and not playing to my abilities.
The Masters is coming up. It’s the only major in which you haven’t notched a top 10. What’s the key to making a real run at the green jacket?
Being healthy. I’ve never played Augusta healthy. Two years ago, I dislocated a rib. Last year—I didn’t tell anybody this—but I had a herniated disk in my neck. So I hadn’t played much going in and had to go out and find my game. I caught the injury bug last year, so when I went and sat on the beach and wrote down my goals for this year, one of them was to do a better job staying fit so that I can play healthy.
You have one Tour win under your belt—the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. What stands out from that victory?
A couple of days before the tournament, I was with my coach, Claude Harmon. I said, “Man, I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t think my game is in good enough shape.” And he said, “Come on, keep grinding, and it’ll come together.” Then I went out and won. So it’s a big joke between us now.
To back up a bit, you blazed an unusual route to the Tour. After you fell short at Q School, you took your talents across the pond. What was Europe like as a pro?
After I missed out at Q School, I was disappointed but determined. I had Challenge Tour status, so I went over to Europe, and it was one of the best times of my life. I had so much fun bouncing around the world, cramming five guys and their golf clubs into a car that probably should have only held two, and listening to all the different stories.
Was it also intimidating?
I knew it would work out. I felt it was only a matter of time. I loved it, but I wanted to move on and start playing against the best players in the world.
Did you have a mentor in Europe who looked out for you?
I felt like I knew what I was doing. It was the same game I grew up playing. I come from a golf family. My dad was pretty good, and my brother, Chase, is also a pro. Growing up, I wanted to beat my dad so bad, and my brother wanted to beat me—we were always competitive, always battling, always grinding to beat each other. I don’t think there’s much more to it. Guys put too much pressure on themselves and make a big deal about each shot. It’s just golf.
Who have you turned to for advice out on Tour?
I enjoy playing with certain guys, picking their brains, like Graeme McDowell. Our caddies are close, so we played a few practice rounds together. He’s one of the grittiest guys on Tour, so he’s offered some advice on how to handle life as a professional.
You had a very strong Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, going 3-1-0 and soundly defeating the reigning Masters champ, Danny Willett, in singles. What was the highlight from that week?
Just being around the best players in the world. You look around the team room and realize how many majors have been won by the guys in there—Tiger, Phil, Davis, Furyk, Jordan. I used to watch some of these guys when I was growing up. That’s pretty cool.
It must be surreal to find yourself in the locker room with someone you idolized, like Tiger or Phil.
Everyone knows how serious Tiger is on the course, but in the team room, he’s fun. He loves to laugh and joke around. It’s funny—the first time I ever played with Tiger, it was really hard. I’d grown up watching him on TV. I’d go to tournaments just for a glimpse. Then I was paired with him, and I spent the first nine holes just watching him walk around, hit balls, do his routine. I lost focus on what I was doing and just watched him—like I’d been doing my whole life.
One more Masters question: Most fans are thinking about Augusta long before April. Are players the same way?
I just got the invitation! Even when you know you’re going to the Masters, it’s so cool to get it. [Laughs] I was talking with Adam Scott—he was my absolute favorite golfer growing up, along with Tiger. [Adam] said you should spend your entire offseason prepping for April. So for me, the No. 1 priority is to stay healthy. And No. 2? Everything is looking forward to Augusta.
One thing I know for sure: Golf is not my life. It’s my job.
When I’m playing, I take the game very seriously, but I enjoy my time away from golf. I don’t watch it in my spare time. I don’t keep up with it on social media. When I’m away from the golf course, I like to just chill. Golf is mentally grinding enough without having to think about it all day.