FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The problem with proving everyone wrong is that eventually those people will start to believe you.
And then where do you find those chips for your shoulders?
This is the predicament that four-time major winner Brooks Koepka currently finds himself in.
For the past two years, the 29-year-old has internalized every doubt, slight and setback and turned them into fuel for one of the most remarkable major runs golf has ever seen.
But now, with a new No. 1 world ranking and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ranking as the only active players with more major victories, it’s safe to say Koepka won’t get much of the doubt that followed his wins at Erin Hills, Shinnecock and Bellerive.
Koepka, however, has already thought of that.
“It doesn't need to come from the outside,” Koepka said after surviving a vengeful Bethpage Black with a 74 during Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship. “I can do it internally, too.”
That’s bad news for the rest of the PGA Tour.
Koepka’s new hurdle is one he publicly revealed earlier in the week when he told the media he was aiming for at least 10 victories in majors. It was a tall order, but then he went out and immediately added one more notch.
Only three men — Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen — have reached 10 major victories. Adding his name to the list was a goal Koepka revealed to his family in private, but it didn’t shock his father that he’s now floated it publicly.
“I think him putting that out there makes him focus that much harder to try and get there,” Bob Koepka said outside the Bethpage Black clubhouse. “Because everyone’s saying it’s not going to happen. There’s a motivation there for him to prove everyone wrong.”
As the past two years have shown, Koepka can’t function any differently. He needs and craves the public’s doubt, whether it’s real, manufactured in his own brain or a combination of the two.
Being overlooked on the Florida junior golf circuit turned into a spot and success on Florida State’s team.
Having to find his game on the European Tour while the rest of his generation was setting out on the PGA Tour turned into winning the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Being dismissed as a one-hit wonder after that win turned into winning it back-to-back and then, for good measure, claiming last year’s PGA Championship.
Being dissed for losing weight before the Masters turned into a second-place finish at Augusta.
And now this.
“There’s always a chip,” Koepka said. “I think every great athlete has a chip.”
Koepka can find them anywhere whenever he needs them. On Sunday, he started to melt down a bit. Four straight bogeys to start the back nine combined with a run from pal Dustin Johnson introduced some drama to Bethpage for the first time all weekend.
As his tee shot flew into the sand on No. 14, the New York fans got on him and started chanting “DJ! DJ!” as he walked down the fairway. Playing partner Harold Varner said he thought the chants were disrespectful, but Koepka said he understood.
“It’s New York,” he said. “What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?”
Koepka took the jeers, though, and used it to reset himself for the final five holes.
“I think it actually helped. It was at a perfect time because I was just thinking, ‘OK, all right. I've got everybody against me. Let's go,’ ” he said.
Johnson ended up fading with bogeys on 16 and 17 while Koepka was able to brush aside a bogey on 17 and a driver that hit sand on 18 to capture the victory.
Koepka and Johnson are good friends and if you look at them, you wonder if Koepka’s approach isn’t the X factor that has him leading his friend 4-1 in major victories.
Johnson is arguably the more gifted and talented player, but his persona is an emotionless avatar. It’s hard to tell if anything that happens to him — good or bad — is registering. He has 20 tour wins, but the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont remains Johnson’s only major victory with four runner-ups to his name.
Koepka, meanwhile, has six total victories but has gotten the job done on the biggest stages four different times.
The proof may be in the pudding.
Koepka made all the rounds on Sunday night with a relieved smile. He was clearly savoring the win. He kissed his girlfriend, hugged his parents and signed yellow pin flags for fans who had stuck around. He talked for almost a half-hour with the media and said this major championship might’ve meant the most considering how tough the final round was.
“I know for a fact that was the most excited I’ve ever been,” he said of the moment he did a Tiger-like fist pump on the 18th green.
This is what it looks like to hang on and win a major championship on the brutally tough Bethpage Black. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/lOE1Uq91LG
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) May 19, 2019
Still, even an hour after that final putt dropped, Brooks Koepka was able to fire up some of that inner rage.
Asked the one time he’s felt the most disrespected or slighted in his career, Koepka didn’t have to search far for an answer.
“Telling me I wasn’t tough,” Koepka said with a noticeable amount of venom. “That pissed me off. That really pissed me off.”
Who told him that?
“I think we all know,” he said.
Koepka was talking about Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel analyst who’s made a career of being outspoken about players.
Chamblee, however, may be out of the Koepka motivational fuel business.
“He’s made a believer out of me,” he said on Sunday night.
And so it goes. The slings and arrows may be coming at Koepka at a much less frequent pace. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop looking for opportunities to get in the way of a few of them.
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