Brooks Koepka, in search of a spark, opens Arnold Palmer Invitational with an 'annoying' 72
Kevin C. Cox
ORLANDO – After a bogey-bogey finish dropped him to even-par 72 in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Brooks Koepka insisted that he is not pressing on the golf course.
“What is there to be pressing over?” Koepka said. “I just work through it. That’s why I’m playing this week. I wasn’t going to be here. I’m trying to figure it out. So it’s close; it’s not far away.”
Indeed, Koepka, ranked No. 3 in the world and coming off a desultory performance in the Honda Classic last week when he shot eight over par and missed the cut, added the Arnold Palmer Invitational to his schedule at the last minute to give him a stretch of five straight events.
So, it kind of seems like he’s pressing. He has things to figure out, and he wasn’t going to wait a week to start that process.
Figuring out what, exactly?
“How to play golf,” he said, succinctly.
The No. 1 player in the world for 38 weeks until “rival” Rory McIlroy passed him a month ago, Koepka, the reigning two-time PGA champion, knows plenty about how to play golf. And the recent rut he is in—at least by his lofty standards—is not a product of poor play. Just the opposite, he insists, which is why he summed up his round thusly: “Even par. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing to rave about. It’s not far off, but it’s still, it’s annoying.”
And, boy, he looked annoyed.
At the end of the day, Koepka was seven shots off the lead of Matt Every.
In six starts since undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, Koepka has two missed cuts, had one withdrawal and finished no better than a T-17 at the Saudi International. He ranks 220th in the FedEx Cup standings a month before the Masters, when, presumably, he’ll flip the switch and contend in the year’s first major.
Majors are his thing. He has four of them. Last year, in addition to winning the PGA at Bethpage Black, he finished second at Augusta National and was runner-up at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in a bid for three national titles in a row.
One reason Koepka, 29, might not be inclined to press is that he's been down this road a few times. His results in the early part of the year haven’t been his strongest traditionally. But the former baseball standout is a beast in the summer. Roger Kahn, who died last month, would have loved this dude.
“Yeah, you can look at my results for the past three years, all the way through until about Match Play is when I started playing [well],” said the Florida native. “I just feel like I’m playing good. That's why it’s so frustrating. Before I felt like I played terrible and the scores have been terrible. Last year at Honda was kind of a shock. I thought I was playing bad and ended up finishing second. That was the only good one. Years before it hasn’t been very good this time of year, and I feel like I'm playing way better than what I’m shooting.
“It is what it is, man,” he added. “I’m still trying my ass off. I can promise you that.”
Pressing. But not pressing. When he finished chatting with the media, he immediately went to the practice range, where instructor Pete Cowen was waiting.
Before excusing himself, though, Koepka, a product of Florida State University, got momentarily distracted from talking about his game to assess the school’s hiring of Mike Norvell as the new football coach.
“They got a longer way to go than I do,” he said, drawing laughs and allowing himself a smile. “They got a longer way. They have got a few years. Hopefully mine doesn't take that long.”
Well, spring isn't far away. And then summer.