Brooks Koepka grew up in the Tiger Woods heyday.
Woods’ greatness attracted Koepka to golf, and he’s now seen first-hand just how much of an impact Woods has on the sport.
“I would say 99 percent of the people that show up when he’s playing are there to see him,” Koepka said.
That’s probably not too far-fetched. Like every sport, golf needs superstars and Woods fits that label better than anyone on the PGA Tour.
But the sport needs more than just Woods, and Koepka is a budding superstar in his own right. He’s the No. 3-ranked player in the world, by far the highest-ranked player in this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest Golf Club.
Koepka describes himself as a “regular person,” but not many “regular people” have won three major championships before turning 30. Ben Hogan didn’t win his first of nine majors until age 34. Phil Mickelson didn’t get his first of five (and counting) until age 33.
“I don’t view myself as probably the person that people see me as,” Koepka said. “It’s kind of humbling when you go up and you meet people and they’re super nervous.
“I wouldn’t call myself a superstar but this person where everybody -- I’m inside the ropes, and, ‘Oh, man, that’s Brooks Koepka.’ I’m just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in that light.”
But Koepka will find himself in that spotlight the more he wins.
Casual sports fans probably know golfers such as Dustin Johnson for his length off the tee, or Rickie Fowler for his popularity. But neither has found the success at golf’s biggest events like Koepka.
Koepka ended last season as the world’s No. 1 golfer, and enters the Nelson having made nine of 10 cuts this season. He won the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges last October, and had a runner-up finish to Woods at the Masters.
Koepka sent a congratulatory text to Woods on his Masters victory, to which Woods replied: “We’re 1-1.”
Woods is referring to the 2018 PGA Championship that Koepka won and Woods finished second. It’s easy to envision Woods and Koepka finishing 1-2 in some fashion for a third consecutive major at next week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
As Koepka joked, “Hopefully we’ll make that [record] 2-1 very shortly.”
For Koepka, it’d be quite a feat to become a two-time defending champion of multiple majors at the same time. And, of course, boost his popularity and ability to help “grow the game” even more.
Koepka talked about the joy he gets from meeting with kids and spreading his love of golf to them.
“It’s probably the coolest feeling,” Koepka said, smiling, “Whatever you say … they listen to everything. It’s fun.
“You do have that responsibility as one of the best players in the world to kind of pass the torch.”
That’s part of the reason Koepka has no issues with the Nelson handing an exemption to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. At the end of the day, the tournament is about drawing fans to the golf course and Romo will do that.
Outside of Koepka and North Texas’ own three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, Romo ranks as one of the biggest storylines of the tournament.
Koepka appreciates that, much like he understands the value and impact Woods’ success has on the sport.
“If they’re going to bring a lot of fans, that’s what we need,” Koepka said. “We keep saying we need to grow the game, but the whole object would be to get fans out here. You can criticize it all you want, but it’s bringing people out here to watch golf.
“Who knows? They bring their families and kids and might get them started in the game.”
This week, Koepka will be focused on his own game in his debut at Trinity Forest. He’s not playing this week to fine-tune anything in particular for the PGA Championship, but instead wants to get back into a “rhythm” after taking last week off.
Koepka has played the week prior in all three of his major victories. His tournament will get underway with a 7:30 a.m. tee time off No. 10 on Thursday, as he’s paired with Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer and reigning Nelson champion Aaron Wise.
“I’m happy where I’m at,” Koepka said of his game. “Hopefully I’ll have a good week this week.”