Brooks Koepka won the PGA TOUR Player of the Year award for 2017-18. It was presented to him in Jupiter, Fla.
The award was a reward forged on the strength of U.S. Open and PGA Championship wins in Southampton, N.Y., and St. Louis, Mo., respectively.
But to capture the essence of Brooks Koepka, this 28-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., focus not on the power he flashed in those major championship victories at vaunted country clubs; instead, study the patience he showed on the lonely sidelines far from the PGA TOUR spotlight. That is where his Player of the Year honor took shape.
“Truthfully, he was nervous about his future,” said Blake Smith, Koepka’s agent, of a left wrist injury that first plagued Brooks Koepka in early December of 2017 and grew more painful at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in early January on Maui.
“It really concerned him. People kept warning us, ‘Wrist injuries can be career-threatening.”
World Golf Championships were on the horizon, also the Masters, so the pressure to play through the pain would have been too great a temptation if Brooks Koepka weren’t saturated in patience. For all his strength and length, Brooks Koepka is where he is thanks to that most invisible of talents.
“He’s never in a rush,” said Smith. “He lets things come to him.”
Having finished dead last in the 18-player Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas, then again in the 34-player Sentry, Brooks Koepka put down the clubs and picked up the phone. It was a partial tear of a tendon, said a doctor; a soft cast was applied, and Brooks Koepka followed orders. Seventeen weeks of rest and treatments is a lot of time to think, but never once did Player of the Year thoughts pop into view.
“That’s why I still can’t get my head around this award,” said Brooks Koepka, having only moments earlier been hand-delivered the POY trophy by the legend himself, whose likeness is depicted on the statue—Jack Nicklaus. It was Oct. 9, nearly nine months to the day of his lowest point in his young, but brilliant career.
“It’s incredible … you look at the guys that have won this Player of the Year, and it’s just incredible to have my name with them,” said Brooks Koepka. “It’s been a roller-coaster year.”
That it required not motion-sickness pills, but old-school patience played to Brooks Koepka’s strength. He is, after all, a poster-boy for those who embrace the chance to prove themselves without gift-wrapped opportunities. “Nothing was ever handed to him,” said Smith, who could be excused if he went into a John Houseman voice. “Brooks earned everything he’s got.”
Far from the glitz of the PGA TOUR, Brooks Koepka turned pro in 2012 and honed his game in ports of call such as Lucerne, Switzerland; Hyvinkaa, Finland; Trondheim, Norway; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Tarragona, Spain. You might need Google to figure out just where in the world Brooks Koepka played, but there’s no mystery as to what took him there. “It was his path,” said Smith. “We [the management of Hambric Sports] provided the chances, but he was the one who said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He thought it was the coolest thing.”
That four wins on Europe’s Challenge Tour led to membership on the European Tour, where Brooks Koepka added another triumph, to a coveted membership on the PGA TOUR, where he has piled up four wins in just 85 starts since 2014-15, is beyond cool. It’s testament to the talent this onetime Florida State standout brings to the PGA TOUR stage, which he had to himself as he held the Jack Nicklaus Award.
Brooks Koepka shook his head.
“Being on the sidelines for four months and then to come out and win two majors,” he said, humbly brushing aside the fact that he was the first to successfully defend a U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989 and that he also had two seconds and was top 25 in 10 of his 17 starts. “It’s been a low and then an incredible high, so it’s truly an honor.”
Given annually since 1990, the PGA TOUR Player of the Year/Jack Nicklaus Award is voted on by members who played in at least 15 tournaments. Voting commences immediately following the season-ending TOUR Championship and this year featured six finalists: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Rose. Koepka is the fourth consecutive first-time winner (following Thomas, Johnson and Jordan Spieth), the first time that’s happened since 1995-98.
This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2018-May 2019 issue, which can be read here.
See also: Justin Rose at the FedExCup