PARAMUS, N.J. – The majors are done for the year. Brooks Koepka is not.
Koepka is one week removed from winning the PGA Championship which, to go along with his second straight U.S. Open title, gives him a sensational season by anyone’s standards. Tiger Woods called Koepka a lock to win PGA Tour player of the year.
Koepka doesn’t believe that’s the case. And a look at his FedEx Cup playoff record is all the motivation he needs.
In three years of being eligible for the PGA Tour’s postseason, Koepka has one top-10 finish. He has started inside the top 20 each of the last three years and has yet to improve his standing when the four playoff events were over. One year, he didn’t make it beyond the third playoff event.
“Sitting back and reflecting on it, how cool is it to be player of the year? It would be such an honor,” Koepka said Wednesday. “But I need to finish it off. I want to come out in the playoffs and actually perform, and hopefully, leave it where there is no option.”
It starts Thursday at The Northern Trust on a course that might remind him of Bellerive, where Koepka set the PGA Championship scoring record at 264.
Ridgewood Country Club is plenty long at 7,385 yards for a par 71. The rough is thicker than usual because of recent rain, which also means the course is extremely soft. Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player and the top seed in the FedEx Cup, rarely hit a shot from the fairway without splotches of mud on his golf ball.
And this is one of the strongest fields of the year.
The FedEx Cup playoffs begin with the top 125 on the PGA Tour, meaning all of them have shown some degree of form to get here. Five players are missing because of injuries (Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley), a wedding to attend (Patrick Rodgers) or an extra week of rest (Rory McIlroy).
With the points worth quadruple value, the top 100 after this week advance to the second stage at the TPC Boston next week, with the top 70 reaching the BMW Championship at Aronimink and the top 30 going to the Tour Championship at East Lake, which most players are starting to regard as the promised land.
“It’s one of my goals every year to make it to Atlanta,” Justin Thomas said. “No matter what I’m ranked in the world, or how many wins I’ve had, if you’re one of the top 30 players over the course of a year, you still have to be doing something right.”
A lot has gone right for Koepka in a year that began so wrong.
The pain he felt in his left wrist in early December never went away over the holidays, and after finishing 37 shots behind Dustin Johnson at Kapalua, he was out for four months. He spent some two months in a soft cast to let the partially torn tendon heal, and wound up missing the Masters.
“I remember when I took the soft cast off, and I went to push down on the shampoo bottle or the soap bottle, it hurt to do that,” Koepka said. “I was like, `Man, I’m in for a really long recovery.“’
Koepka had no assurances he would have a full recovery that allowed him to compete. Months later, his return was nothing short of amazing. In his third start, he was runner-up at Colonial. Three weeks later at Shinnecock Hills, he became the first player in 29 years to win back-to-back in the U.S. Open.
Two months later, he became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year.
“I guess it’s like having an animal in a cage and you open that cage and they just can’t wait to get out,” Koepka said. “The competition I missed so much. There’s absolutely no competition sitting on the couch. The only thing I was competing in was who could eat the most. And I was doing a really good job at that.”
Koepka has a chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week, though he is thinking more about the next four tournaments, and the $10 million bonus that awaits the next FedEx Cup champion.
“I just haven’t shown up,” he said.
Jordan Spieth won the FedEx Cup in 2015 by treating the final event at East Lake as if it were a major, going through the same routine he kept in winning the Masters and U.S. Open that year. Koepka is headed down that road. He has rented houses for the next three weeks, just like at the majors, and he is bringing his trainer, chef and the regular crew.
“I’m trying to bring that attitude of how important the majors are to these weeks,” he said. “I’m trying to be better about making sure that every PGA Tour event I am as focused as I am at the majors.”