PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Brooks Koepka is lord of many things. At just 29, he has already won four major championships, reached No. 1 in the world, been unafraid and unapologetic about calling out his peers, played golf with the President of the United States and posed both in a Louis Vuitton shirt for GQ and his birthday suit for ESPN The Magazine.
He has also proven master of another highly sought after skill: Convincing himself that he’s still the best player in the game even when unassailable facts say otherwise. Or at least when the numbers on the scorecard do.
Consider what Koepka said earlier this week, when he reiterated that he didn’t hit a bad shot on the 12th hole during the final round of last year’s Masters. That would be where his chance of a green jacket sunk to the bottom of Rae’s Creek along with his tee shot. And then there was Thursday, when Koepka shot a four-over 74 in the opening round of the Honda Classic, leaving himself in a tie for 103rd, eight strokes off the lead.
In fairness to Koepka, the wind was blowing, the temperature had fallen (into the low 60s, anyway) and PGA National’s Champion course played difficult, with only 22 players breaking par.
Even so, the positivity from Koepka was impressive given the figures on his scorecard. “I actually played pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t even hit bad shots and was getting penalized.”
Perhaps. But at the 480-yard par-4 sixth—the hardest hole on the course—Koepka twice found the water, first off the tee then on his approach after taking a drop, eventually leading to a triple-bogey 7.
“I was trying to hold it against the wind, and it kept going,” Koepka said of the tee shot. “One of those things where if it’s cutting, it’s going right. It just felt like I probably hit it too good, too low, for it to really hold the wind.”
Too good? Perhaps. Or maybe not quite good enough as there was little room for error. To his credit, Koepka bounced back with a birdie at the next hole, rolling in a 45-footer on the par-3 seventh.
But then on the par-4 ninth, he drove into a bunker, knocked his second into another bunker and sent his third across the green and down the slope, leading to a double bogey.
More: On the par-4 16th, Koepka’s second from the left rough left him 50 feet from the hole and he three-putted for another bogey. Then the par-5 18th: From a fairway bunker, Koepka knocked his second into the water, his next one from just over 100 yards to 25 feet and two-putted for another bogey. He also hit just 43 percent of his fairways and was in the negative on strokes gained/putting.
“Not enough sand in the bunker on 18,” Koepka said before conceding, “and just a bad shot.”
It was a momentary lapse.
Repeated Koepka: “I didn’t feel like I played that bad.”