Why Brooks Koepka's Comments Should Worry Steve Stricker
The Ryder Cup is an important element of professional golf. Sure, players go head-to-head on a weekly basis and major championships are the most desirable trophies to obtain, but the spirit of teamwork and working as a collective is what makes the Ryder Cup so distinctive and exciting.
We see it regularly - and have done for a while - how serious Europe take this competition. Typically, they don’t have the strongest team; typically, they don’t have the talent the Americans do; typically, they should not be winning these cups if the competition was on paper.
However, it isn’t contested on paper and the European team continue to exhibit how integral pushing the ego to one side and fighting for every man on your team is - can we say the same about the Americans?
Golf is a game that is usually played in teams of two: the golfer and the caddie. While we appreciate it must be difficult to alter your mindset from me, myself and I to us, Europe continue to achieve this shift in thought. Again, can we say the same about the Americans?
From the recent Ryder Cups, this is arguably the strongest America have been. Of the 12 players that make the team up, nine of them are currently ranked within the world’s top 11 - with Scottie Scheffler’s ranking of 21 being the lowest of the team.
In contrast, Europe have one player in the world’s top 12, but he may just be the greatest of them all: Jon Rahm. Viktor Hovland is 13th, Rory McIlroy 15th and Tyrrell Hatton 19th; the rest are ranked outside of the world’s top 20.
If this Ryder Cup was to be simulated, the outcome would likely be inevitable: a USA victory.
With a plethora of talent, America may go into the weekend with a slight edge. The problem is: this outrageously talented team cannot switch off their ego or quest for individual glory for three days.
That, as we know, will prove to be difficult and arguably the most troublesome problem that Steve Stricker will have to face.
He won’t need to share insight into short game tips; he won’t need to give any performance advice, but his role is far above all of that: he’ll need to manage a locker room of egos that have been directly competing against one another since they’ve made it to the PGA Tour.
That won’t be an easy feat.
What an incredible and glittering golfer Brooks Koepka is. He has recently stated that he has ambitions to chase down the major records of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
While Koepka does a lot of things right - exclusively from a performance perspective - his opinions occasionally overshadow his natural ability.
He has previously stated he gets bored playing golf; he has suggested golf’s 18-hole format should be shortened and his teamwork ethics continue to be questioned.
Considering the final point, it’s probably a good thing that he turned professional in golf and not baseball - nor any team environment - that he sought as a young adult.
It is no secret that he and Bryson DeChambeau have grown apart from one another and that’s putting it softly. The duo absolutely cannot stand one another currently and how will that play out in an environment that pits the enemies on the same side?
Speaking to Golf Digest, Koepka may have inadvertently cranked up the pressure on his captain and it appears that the build-up to the Ryder Cup may interfere with his usual competition preparations.
“It’s different [Ryder Cup weeks]. It’s hectic. It’s a bit odd if I’m honest. I don’t want to say it’s a bad week.
“We’re just so individualised, and everybody has their routine and a different way of doing things, and now, it’s like, ok, we have to have a meeting at this time or go do this or go do that.
“It’s the opposite of what happens during a major week.”
Koepka’s comments will bolster the consensus that the Americans struggle to cooperate and work together.
While there are moments of individual brilliance during the cups, greatness and subsequent victory can only be achieved if the team are functioning together.
You win together and you lose together, but further comments from Koepka would provide a juxtaposition to that view.
“There are times where I’m like, I won my match. I did my job. What do you want from me? I know how to take responsibility for the shots I hit every week.
“Now, somebody else hit a bad shot and left me in a bad spot, and I know this hole is a loss. That’s new and you have to change the way you think about things.
“You go from an individual sport all the time to a team sport one week a year. It’s so far from my normal routine.”
While he is correct, the mindset shifts dramatically from looking out for yourself to the good of the team, it’s still expected he makes that transition smoothly - at least without tarnishing the tradition of the Ryder Cup.
You could see how excited Bernd Wiesberger was to secure his place in Europe’s team, why is this not the case for Koepka and co?
The American’s comments could - and maybe will - damage the spirit within the team. While he has no problems expressing his feelings to the media usually, perhaps the timing was wrong with his latest cameo.
The flipside for Stricker and his team is Patrick Reed. If Koepka pulls out through injury, then Reed looked to be the certain replacement.
However, after a series of tweets that were liked from the official Twitter account of Reed - mainly questioning Stricker’s decision to leave him out - that doesn’t seem like a likely outcome now.
Ultimately, it’s quickly becoming a case of new Ryder Cup, same story for the Americans.
While they may have the strongest squad and ability as a group, until they start to appreciate and encourage one another, Europe will always have the advantage in team-based events.
Do you think Koepka’s comments should worry Stricker?
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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