Brooks Koepka shot a level-par 70 to maintain a seven-shot advantage after three rounds of golf at the 2019 PGA Championship. Afterwards, the defending champion met with the media to discuss his third day of play at Bethpage Black, and his strategy for Sunday on Long Island, among other things.
Below is the full transcript, and video:
Welcome back to the 2019 PGA Championship here at Bethpage Black. Pleased to be joined by the 54-hole leader, Brooks Koepka, who shot an even par 70 today for a three-day total of 198. His 7-shot lead is the largest 54-hole lead in PGA Championship history. Brooks, maybe not the peak form you flashed Thursday and Friday, but you maintained your 7-shot lead and that’s probably the most important thing.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, it is. I felt like I played — I struck it better than I did yesterday. I just didn’t putt as well. I felt like as you saw, I left a couple putts short right in the middle. If I make those and shoot a couple under, I extend the lead.
But I felt like they were coming off the putter very nicely. You’re also trying not to leave yourself with too many 3- and 4-footers. If you have tap-ins, the way it’s playing today, it’s difficult to make a lot of birdies. If you can par your way around this golf course — today, I thought it was pretty good.
Do you approach tomorrow with a 7-shot lead the same way you would if you were tied one shot ahead?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just trying to play good golf. If I can get off to a good start tomorrow, these first six holes are very scorable.
I feel like if you can get 1- or 2-under after six, you’re in a good spot. That’s all I need to do tomorrow, and then from there, from 7 to 12, just try to hang on and make as many pars as you can. It’s nothing different. I’m just going to go try to play a good, solid round of golf.
You’re playing the kind of golf that Jordan played in 2015; that Rory played in 2014. What can you learn from watching what they did then?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, I was there for Jordan, so it wasn’t really — I don’t really pay attention. I don’t really — it doesn’t matter what goes on.
I’m just trying to do me, and feel like if I can go out and go play good golf, everything’s going to be just fine. I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t see any reason why — I mean, I know that they are basically going for the career Grand Slam, but you know, I’m sure — I think in a few years, I’ll be there, too.
It’s different for everybody.
Brooks in Focus
How important was that birdie on 13 to kind of stabilize the round after some errant tee shots, and on 15, can you talk about the second shot, please?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I thought that putt, it was a difficult putt. It was just straight downhill, downwind. You know, the putt on 11 was kind of big, I thought. Not to make three in a row — and it kind of gave me a little bit of momentum. Especially after leaving it short on, what was it, 12, right in the jar.
You know, to see one go in was, I thought, important, and it felt like, all right, let’s get a few coming in. 15, if you’re going to miss it on that hole, you have to miss it a little bit left. If you’re going to hit it on the right-hand side, you’re going to be 40 yards further from the hole.
But I mean, it was pretty good. I think we had 138 hole — or 138 front, and 160, I don’t even know what the pin was but we were just concerned about the front. Just gauged out a pitching wedge and was able to sneak on that same level.
In some sports, you hear athletes talk about that it can be difficult at times to maintain focus and concentration when you’re playing with a big lead. How do you do that and prevent yourself from relaxing or letting up at all?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Well, I’m definitely not going to let up; I promise you that. I’m just trying to hit the best possible shot I can at the time.
I feel like when I’m over the shot, I’m very confident. I feel good about it, and if I’m not, I’m going to back off.
Most of the time, I’m pretty anxious to hit while the guy’s ball’s in the air. I’ve got to wait on the crowd to calm down a little bit. I enjoy the confidence I have and what I’m playing with right now.
Brooks Bombs Away
Xander talked about how demoralizing it is to look at the scoreboard and he feels like he’s playing pretty well, and he’s still 10 or 12 shots back. Can you sense that, and are you trying to force that on the field, so to speak?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I’d love to force it on the field and I can make it where it’s as big as a lead as I possibly can get. I mean, it would be nice to be able to make a 10 on the last hole and be okay. But I’m just playing to play good golf, and wherever that puts me, I’ll be satisfied if I just go play one more good round.
You’re playing at an historic clip here this week and keep a poker face demeanor out on the course. Can you put into words what it feels like when you have a big moment out there?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, it’s incredible. These fans are very energetic. New York’s always got some of the best fans. It’s a true sporting town. It’s fun to play in front of them. I enjoy it. I enjoy hearing the cheers. It’s actually kind of fun hearing some of the boos, too, when you miss a short one like 9. You pretty much deserve that.
But it’s really enjoyable to play in front of them and feel that electricity. I felt it all week playing with Tiger. You know what you’re going to get, but even today, there was a lot of people out there and it was fun to play in front of them.
But how are you feeling when you’re out there in a big moment.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Just normal. I mean, it’s just one golf shot. I’m trying to win a golf tournament. I’m not focused on anything else other than hitting a good shot or a good putt.
What do you think is the most your heart has ever been racing on a golf course, and what would you put your pulse at today?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t know. I don’t know what my resting heart rate is, probably not far off that. I mean, every time I set up to a golf shot, I feel like I know what the ball is going to do, and if I don’t, then I guess I’d be nervous, but there’s no point in being nervous.
I’m not worried about — I’m not so much worried about the result. I’m never trying to hit a bad shot. So that’s why I would never get upset.
It’s either going to be good or bad. You’ve got two options, and I feel like if you — I’m never trying to hit it in the water. I’m never trying to hit it out-of-bounds, so it’s obviously a mistake. You’re just trying to minimize those. You’re not trying to miss greens. I’m not trying to do any of that.
So I mean, I’m trying my butt off, and from there, you know, sometimes you need a little bit of luck. But I’d say I’m pretty flatlined most of the time, as you can tell (smiling).
Well played today. You touched on it slightly earlier there, but yesterday you said something like you feel like you’re going to work. Like how much do you feel like tomorrow is just another day at the office, and how much of you is excited about the prospect of winning another major?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I mean, obviously to win would be great. I mean, it is just another day of work for me. You know, come out here, practice, get here an hour and a half early, beat balls for an hour and hopefully get out there and play under a five-hour round and play solid.
It’s nothing — if you start treating tomorrow’s round differently than every other round, I feel like that’s where I would maybe be nervous or start — I’m not superstitious or anything, but you start worrying about this, worrying about that; it’s just like any other round I’ve ever played. It’s 18 holes. Try to hit the fairway. Try to hit the green and try to make birdie.
Koepka: Eyes History
What is your day like tomorrow? What time do you get up? What do you do in the morning? Do you watch golf, or do you just block it out completely and then come in, like you said, an hour and a half early?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I’ll probably wake up 6:00, 6:30. Just kind of relax. Eat breakfast. Kind of chat with everybody. See what’s going on.
I mean, we’re just laughing. I mean, we’ll put some of the golf on to just kind of see where the pin locations are and kind of learn some stuff. I watched it all day on 1; that putt snapped and I still didn’t take what I saw.
But yeah, I’ll watch a little bit of it, see what’s going on and get out here an hour and a half early and work with my physio, Marc Wahl, and then go beat balls for an hour and putt for a little bit and go to the first tee.
It seems to me at Shinnecock last year heading into Sunday, your friend said you had a lifting contest or something with him. Is that unusual? Is that something you could do tomorrow heading into this?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I have a bunch of my boys came down and their girlfriends came down. I mean, I won’t see them tonight, I know that. They will be out here tomorrow. I probably won’t — it was my best friend that actually challenged me to that, or told me I couldn’t do it. He won’t be here. Beacons got a playoff game. I don’t know, I think they had a doubleheader today. I don’t know if they won.
So I don’t even think he’s going to be out here tomorrow. He’s going to be busy coaching baseball.
Is there any doubt whatsoever in your mind that you’re going to win tomorrow?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No. I feel — I feel confident. I feel good. I feel excited. I’m excited. I was excited just to get to the course today, and then try to build that lead, but didn’t happen. It’s a tough day.
It’s not going to be — it would have been really hard to shoot 4- or 5-under. I don’t know if anybody did that today or not, but it was a difficult day, and any time the wind’s going to be blowing 15 at Bethpage Black, you’re in for a real test.
I feel confident going into tomorrow. I don’t know what the forecast is. But if I can hit a few fairways, there’s really a couple key holes out here, you know, you play 7 well, play 10 and 12 well, and then from there, you just hit the center of the greens and try to par this place to death.
Koepka: Closing at Bethpage Black
As great as you’ve played this week, are you a little surprised that no one’s challenged you a little more? Obviously the track’s difficult, but have you just been that much better than everyone?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t know if I’ve just been that much better than everybody. I mean, I thought it was out there, definitely the first day. Danny, what, shot 6-under? Just didn’t have a good day the second day.
This golf course, there’s a fine line between shooting a great number or shooting even par, and then the same for even par, 4- or 5-over. You don’t hit fairways out here, you’re not going to shoot under par. Very simple. I didn’t do a good job of that today. That’s why I shot even par. It’s not easy.
What is your resting heart rate?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t know. I haven’t tested it.
You said you did.
BROOKS KOEPKA: No, I said I haven’t. But if I did, it would probably be not far off what it is sitting on the couch versus the first tee or the 18th green. It’s not far.
Sort of following up on Doug’s question and that question, if we go back five or six years ago and ask you that same question about stress on the golf course, would the answer have been the same, or have you had to learn to deal with it in this fashion?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It’s been a learning process. I think the first real dose that I kind of learned to treat it that way was at Pinehurst. Got myself — I wasn’t in contention. We were all kind of jockeying for second place because Martin was so far ahead.
But I felt a very — I felt calm on the back nine and I felt like I played well, and that’s because I knew — I wasn’t thinking about winning. All I was trying to do was just hit good golf shots coming down the stretch. Once I learned that, not thinking about, hey, I can win the golf tournament, not anything else, just other than I want to hit the best possible shot I can at this moment. That’s when everything kind of simplified for me.
It’s not — I know everybody keeps asking, like what am I doing differently. I’m not — I’m just that much more focused. I mean, I think I’m more focused than anybody out there. I think I’m tunnel-visioned. My focus probably goes up, I don’t know, tenfold of what it does in a form TOUR event, which isn’t good. I mean, it’s good that I’m doing it in the majors, but I need to do that in the regular weeks.
It’s just something about playing a tough golf course and understanding. Maybe it’s doing a little bit more homework. I don’t do well — like last week, for example. I’m not the best at the birdie-fest. I’m better at if it’s going to play very difficult and even par, I like that. Those are my kind of golf courses, where it’s very stressful to play. I enjoy that. That’s what I live for.
One More Round
Can you put in comparison what your mind-set was heading into the final day of last year’s PGA or at Shinnecock compared to how comfortable you feel now? Is this one of the most even-keel mind-sets you’ve had?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I mean, every time you get in this position, you learn a little bit of whatever it might be going into the final day. Obviously it’s nice to have a little bit of a 7-shot cushion, but I’m worried. I feel very good, and I felt good at Shinnecock. It felt like all I had to do was get off to a good start, and I did that there.
I know tomorrow, if I can get off to a good start, guys got to push, and if you’re going to push on this golf course, you’re going to make mistakes. I just have to have the same mentality, focus on myself and not anybody else. And at the same time, staying patient and staying in the moment, and every time I do it, I feel like I’m getting better and better at it.
If you are looking back and analyzing the three majors you’ve won, 2017, the U.S. Open after the third round, you were minus one. Last year at the U.S. Open, you tied the lead. Today, you are 7-up. So what’s the next? I mean, seriously, this is your focus. Any psychological training which you put any psychological pressure on your opponent, or this is just a natural way of a great champion?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t need a sports psychologist. I’m pretty good at it. I know what I’m doing. I feel like — it’s simpler than what guys think. Guys make the mistake of trying to figure out, when they get to a major, what’s going on, what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up, and move on. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes; it’s a major championship. You know that’s going to happen, and guys have a hard time letting that go.
I think that’s why you see Dustin up there a lot. He let’s things roll off his back very easy. He’s quite impressive. Hanging out with him quite a bit, you kind of take from him, and I take from G-Mac a little bit, the way he grinds it out on a golf course.
Those two have kind of been — I don’t want to say my sounding boards, but guys I’ve taken bits and pieces of that I like mentally and how they approach it, just from listening to them. I don’t say much. I just listen to them. I let them kind of talk about it and go from there and pick what I like and pick what I think I can make a little bit better for myself.
He’s the defending champion and the 54-hole leader. Thanks, Brooks, for your time.