Koepka v DeChambeau: Whose side are you on?

Over two million people watched a video of Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka this week before it then got taken down. In it a sullen-looking Koepka is pushed over the edge by DeChambeau either a) walking past in his spikes or b) the US Open winner muttering something or other. Another option is that DeChambeau’s mere presence was enough to throw his countryman into a tailspin – one of the few certainties is that they, two alpha males, don’t like each other.

Golf and golfers have become more outspoken in recent years but, generally speaking, it’s all pretty tame. You rarely get rivalries or outright mutual loathing but, in the past couple of years, the Ryder Cup team-mates have clashed over DeChambeau’s pace of play, Koepka’s abs and certain rulings. There will surely have been other bits, behind closed doors, but it’s blindingly obvious that they’re not for one another.

Once upon a time not so long ago Patrick Reed was the No. 1 bad guy in the game, now all we can do is quietly obsess about whether we are on Team Brooks or Team Bryson. 

The case for Brooks Koepka

What do we like when we first think of Keopka? Well, he’s a brute when it comes to the majors. At the start of the PGA Championship last week the questions were whether his knee would last the week at Kiawah Island, come the end of the week he was still there pushing Phil Mickelson to the 72nd hole. He’s won eight times on the PGA Tour, half of them are majors.

When it comes to partners in Ryder or Presidents Cups he’s been paired with all-round good guys like Brandt Snedeker and Tony Finau, another tick in the box, as well as his one-time good friend Dustin Johnson. Koepka said that their friendship had been overplayed in the media and that he didn’t particularly need any more friends than the ones he already had.

I’m not close with any of the guys out here. We are friends, but at the same time I’ve got enough friends. I see these guys 22 weeks of the year. When I go home I don’t need to see them for another 30 weeks, you know?”

In the same interview, with GolfWeek’s Eamon Lynch, he said this of DeChambeau: “We’re two totally different people. He wouldn’t be anyone I would hang out with outside of golf and I think he would say the same thing. Which is totally cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just two completely different personalities. I’ve got no issue with him. He’s just never going to be my best friend, we’ll put it that way.”

Fair enough, no? Could you imagine these two swapping jokes over dinner or anywhere for that matter? One stops conversations in their tracks, the other can’t help himself when opening his mouth.

When they did have their chat over a pace-of-play disagreement in August 2019 DeChambeau described it as ‘awesome’.

“I said, ‘I think we got to start internally so we don’t have these issues come out in public and it creates a bad image for the PGA Tour. We never want that. So it was great. We had a great conversation, and have a new level of respect for him.”

You can picture Koepka rolling his eyes at the reaction.

As much as players don’t all have to get along, the same goes with coaches and players. Pete Cowen is Koepka’s short-game go-to guy and the Yorkshireman is as straight talking as anyone in the game. He likes the four-time major winner a lot and that’s not just Cowen painting one of his players in a good light, there’s a genuine affinity for Koepka, a player he’s worked with since 2014.

We went to a pub near Ascot for a meal, to get introduced to each other and Brooks arrived in a nice restaurant with his baseball hat on back to front and I thought ‘no, no, I can’t have that’. We’re sat at the table and a really attractive girl turns up. Brooks went to the loo and when he came back I said to him, ‘Brooks you know that really attractive girl who’s over there’ he said ‘yeah’. ‘She’s just asked who the twat with the hat is’ and of course all the players on the next table behind him were laughing.

“So, he doesn’t come for a meal with a baseball cap on back to front anymore and that was the start of our relationship. He’s a great guy to work with and I really like him. It’s a pleasure to work with him and see the confidence he’s got.”

Three years later Cowen was playing a big part in Koepka’s major breakthrough and he gave us a nice insight into what makes the American tick.

“I wasn’t impressed with his body language so on the Tuesday of Erin Hills at the US Open I sat him down with Ricky and told him that with that attitude he wasn’t going to do anything. With an attitude of ‘why me?’ and ‘why am I here?’, you’re never going to win anything. I challenged him to change his attitude and show the attitude of a champion and, on the flight back, he said ‘thanks for the bollocking!’”

The case for Bryson DeChambeau

DeChambeau only turned pro five years ago. In that time he has amassed the same amount of PGA Tour wins (8) as Koepka and, on paper he’s the fourth best player in the world, three places higher than his compatriot. He will defend his US Open title next month and he will do it, most likely, by saying something that many will regard as silly or arrogant or whatever.

He’s supposedly not overly popular in the locker room and, when he did romp to his six-shot US Open win, the messages of often begrudging congratulations were tempered with phrases like ‘he might not be everyone’s cup of tea…’ or ‘love him or loathe him…’ before a collection of compliments.

DeChambeau is more polarising than Reed, which is quite a feat, and comments like Augusta having a par of 67 for him are guaranteed to rankle with pretty much everyone. Four days later he was stumbling to a tie for 34th at a paltry score of -2 and most people couldn’t have been happier.

He’s slow, insufferably slow, and he’s insufferable when he begins his winners’ speeches with clanging mentions of his sponsors. He’s long-winded and quirky and different and, for all of these things, we’re lucky to have him.

Not so long ago we were supposedly devoid of characters in the game, a collection of baseball-capped robots. Now we have a 27-year-old with the nickname of The Scientist who, despite or because of all of these things, is helping to make the game cool.

When he won at Bay Hill 4.5m people watched him eat up the par-5 6th at Bay Hill while simultaneously saluting his efforts. In time the players are going to be remunerated for the number of eyeballs on them and DeChambeau is going to clean up. He might well be preppy and geeky but we can’t get enough of him.

He talks about the possibility of a 48-inch driver and the authorities react. He talks about unrecognisable (away from Long Drive contests) clubhead speeds and other players have followed. His body shape has changed out of all proportion and, in the years to come, we’re going to see the physical bulked-up development of his fellow Tour pros.

He’s become the most fascinating player in the game and he’s just getting started. There will be other new tricks and he’ll get under the skin of more and more players. He’ll take more and more ridiculous lines off tees to try and gain an edge over the rest of the field.

He’ll irritate plenty with his pre-shot chatter of elevation vectors aerodynamic surface friction and dew point influences (how could he possibly play the game in normal time with all these considerations?) but he’s a world away from the bog standard responses of ‘yeah played nicely, I just need to roll the rock now’.

We’ve only had DeChambeau in most of our lives for five or so years and think what’s he added, in whatever shape it’s taken, in terms of entertainment and value. He’s only played in four Masters as a pro but imagine now a week at Augusta without his thoughts on the course set-up and how he plans to dismantle it. In time we’ll get to enjoy more of his skills on an Open Championship and Ryder Cup stage. It’s been a hell of a ride so far and it’s only going to get more interesting.