He’s a golfer first and an athlete second, but combining the two has taken Brooks Koepka to world number one, and in the process made him one of the most feared men in the sport.
As he reveals to RSNG, there's a lot more under the skin than just muscle. That said, he says that building strength is essential if you want to hang with the big hitters of modern golf.
RSNG You are the first golfer to ever hold back-to-back titles in two majors simultaneously – looking back, was there a key thing you did to be that dominant, or did everything just line up for you?
BROOKS KOEPKA, THE PGA POWER PLAYER “To win any tournament, things have to line up for you. It’s a combination of playing well, short and long; it’s about getting some luck; it’s about having consistent rounds, or certainly not a bad hour or morning. It’s all those things. It’s also not having a competitor play out of their skin, something you cannot control. So there’s a lot in there.
“At the end of the day, I love playing in the majors and they are always going to be the ultimate test for your game and – you would think – for every player. I just relish having my game tested and put under pressure and then I can really see where I am at.
“Can I rise to the unique challenges that are set by playing the best golf courses in the world? Can I make sure that I play my best golf at those courses and when the best players in the world are also playing their best golf?
“Well, that’s the intention – and when it all lines up, then great; so maybe that’s what happened when I was able to win those majors.”
RSNG You must have had bad mornings or afternoons in the past and still won tournaments?
BROOKS KOEPKA “Yes but many more in the past where I couldn’t shake a way out of a poor few shots, and it would go on to affect the rest of my game.
“The key to winning anything is accepting you can’t play every shot well – you will need to tough things out. One mistake, in something between 260 to 280 shots, shouldn’t lose you a title; but one mistake that leads to another and another, will.”
If you're going to hit it long you need to be strong – you can have all the technique in the world, but if you haven’t got power you’ll never get to where you want to be
RSNG When it comes to distance you have one of the best golf swings in the world. If you were to break down how you have achieved that, what proportion would you say strength and conditioning contributed, and how much is technique and equipment?
BROOKS KOEPKA “As someone who has overcome a couple of injuries that really stuck around, I would probably say strength and conditioning is something I look out for mostly, or at least more than other competitors who haven’t had to overcome injury might do.
“When you have an injury it is completely debilitating – my wrist took a long time to heal but at least I knew I had no option but to rest. The knee injury was slightly different in that I tried to play through it, and actually found a way to, by lining up my left foot a little bit further back from where it had been. Not only did it reduce the pain I was feeling in my left side, but also stopped me re-correcting after striking the ball, which would mean I would either hook the ball to my left or ‘block’ it straight out to the right.
“So there’s a lot there about conditioning and strength, and how being forced to adjust can actually end up having a positive effect on technique. And of course I am addicted to gym work and the place that’s taking me…
“I guess at the heart of it is the fact that if you're going to hit it long you need to be strong – you can have all the technique in the world, but if you haven’t got power you’ll never get to where you want to be.”
RSNG Was there one gym workout that took you forward quicker than the others?
BROOKS KOEPKA “Well benching heavier weight certainly took me to the next level, as you would expect. I hear a lot about cross-training and mixing things up, and that’s fine for overall body fitness; but when you’re looking for just one solution – strength – then there’s no point wasting time on other things!
“That said, my gym routine is detailed and carefully structured. There is nothing left to chance.”
RSNG Do you think the game of golf is in a period of rapid change as players such as yourself bring new approaches and ideas to training and execution?
BROOKS KOEPKA “Yes definitely, and I think it’s moving faster than ever now. Perhaps it’s the media, the cameras, or just a new breed coming through, but players are braver now than ever before and there’s a much more ruthless route taken to winning titles.
“The golf that’s being played now I don’t think you would have seen 20 years ago.”
RSNG What’s your go-to workout program for golf and have you been targeting any specific areas of strength or fitness in the past year or so?
BROOKS KOEPKA “I do lift too many weights and probably weights that are too heavy, but it is something that makes me happy, and as I said, I do see the difference on the course.
“I work on a structural strength program and a lot of that will involve technical, bespoke lifts that replicate and reflect the stresses that go through the body when you rotate and hit a shot. There is power work in every direction, from bench presses to forward force to chin-ups – if there is an upper-body muscle set to be worked then it will be worked.”
RSNG Have you modified it over time?
BROOKS KOEPKA “I think my biggest modification was when I came back from injury, because I knew I just had to take my foot off the accelerator. There is always the desire to be better and to get in the shape that will make injuries less likely in future, and sometimes that leads you too far the other way – you are only ready when your body decides you are ready.
“And although I’m pushing and lifting more, I’ve learned to be less aggressive in my training and fitness - a little bit less intensity will probably prolong my career.”
RSNG A lot has been made of your rivalry with Dustin Johnson in the gym?
BROOKS KOEPKA “We are best buddies and we push ourselves. It’s all a friendly rivalry but it makes it so much more fun – firstly to have someone there who you’re battling with every step of the way; and secondly to take all that work and energy out onto the course to see how it translates. I think we both believe we’re lucky to have the other one there and involved… it’s a great thing for us both.”
RSNG Do you have a mental training plan or strategy for focus and execution during high-pressure competitions?
BROOKS KOEPKA “I have been in some dark places in my life – and not just because of my injury, but that by itself was a huge concern for me because I really didn’t know when I was going to get back playing, or if I was going to return to the game, at all.
“When you have something so humbling like that, which almost reduces you to a place where you’re wondering about not just your career, but your life in general – especially when it’s your job, your lifeblood – it can really affect you and the people around you.
“But those people who really helped me, and I can’t thank them enough. Getting through bad stuff motivates me and reminds me there is always the next week, the next event, the next shot. I’ll never take my career for granted, but everything moving forward is now about making up for the lost time and trying to use the injuries I have had as, I guess, strengthening tools.”
I’ll never take my career for granted, but everything moving forward is now about making up for the lost time and using the injuries I have had as strengthening tools
RSNG The internet seems fascinated by your rivalry with another big-hitting player – you’ve said that rivalry is good for the game, but does it also help you stoke your own competitive fires in-competition?
BROOKS KOEPKA “At the end of the day, I’m here to play golf. That’s what I will be judged on, no matter what the press says, no matter what I say, no matter what Bryson says. It’s always good fun and ammunition for the media to make what they will of it.
“However, how I play in tournaments will determine how good my career is until I retire – not much else. I will always be as respectful to anyone, as long as they are respectful to me and my fellow golfers, fans and the golf community.
“If it stays as things are going at the moment, I’m happy to keep that going – as long as there are no boundaries crossed. It’s good fun but it needs to stay sensible. We both know that.”
RSNG You have a high-protein, low-fat diet with about 200g of protein per day. Is that hard to stick to and what’s your favorite way to get enough protein on board, especially when you don’t have the time or appetite for a full meal?
BROOKS KOEPKA “I wouldn’t say it’s hard. A simple diet is always the best to follow and it’s never a problem making sure I stick to what I need to. When I am allowed to stray a little bit and have something like a pizza, I don’t get shouted at.
“I am told that the best way to build is to eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, that’s why I have 200g a day, as I am just above 200lbs in weight. I have a great chef who gives me the right information and helps me to meet this.
“I got a lot of stick in the past for losing a lot of weight and people thought it was for a photoshoot which was around the same time. It all worked out.”
WHAT NEXT? Want to read about that certain other big hitter Brooks has an intense rivalry with? Then check out the RSNG interview with Bryson DeChambeau