Though the 29-year-old Koepka has long since moved on to other swing coaches and the coterie of trainers, mental game gurus, dieticians and managers that trail every top-level Tour player these days, the bond between him and Bottke has never wavered. “I’m more of a ‘second dad’ or confidant” these days, Bottke says. “We’ll text back and forth periodically."
If you ask him, that long-standing relationship deepened further last year, when his star former pupil won the PGA at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
“He won ‘my’ golf tournament,” Bottke said in the CBS special. “My hair still stands on end because it means so much. The PGA has done so much for me, I’m so indebted to them, and for him to win our golf tournament — wow. What a journey that was to have him, as a young boy.”
Then came this year’s Masters, which Koepka almost certainly would have won — thereby disappointing millions rooting for Tiger Woods — but for one puff of wind on Augusta National’s diabolical 12th hole
“I walked all 18 holes with him during the final round. He was disappointed he didn’t win, but to come back after the double bogey on 12, and make eagle on 13 was pretty impressive. He had good birdie chances on 17 and 18 but just came up a little short.
“After the round we talked and he said, ‘I was just five feet right of my mark on 12, and a gust of wind … that was it. But I’m please at the way I did.’ That’s all you can do.”
The 12th hole also claimed then-leader Francesco Molinari as well as Tony Finau, the third player in the final group, along with Tiger.
“Yeah, four of the five leaders. It was gusty down there,” Bottke said. “The wind was swirling and you couldn’t tell if it was in your face, side wind, downwind. It was swirling in that little tunnel, or vortex if you will. He knows well enough to hit it left of that bunker.
“They interviewed Tiger and he said he knew ‘Brooksie’ probably hit 9, so he hit a 8-iron stinger right in the back of the left corner of that green — he wasn’t gonna deal with that pin. Jack Nicklaus always used to talk about never going for that pin, you go for the green. It is enticing to want to do that, but I know for him, he did not do it that way; it was just a push of a shot, off his mark a little.”
Had Koepka slipped into a green jacket, he’d have won four of seven of the last majors. Should he defend at Bethpage, it’ll be four of eight. That’s a pretty solid batting average over the span of two and a half seasons — decidedly Tiger-in-2000-esque. By almost any measure except for the convoluted World Rankings, he’s the No. 1 golfer in the world.
And yet, he continues to get short shrift from the media, the golf cognoscenti and the public in general. Even Jim Nantz, the usually staid CBS sports anchor, took the golf world to task during a pre-PGA conference call on May 8.
“It’s borderline tragic in terms of how you cover a player or a subject. He’s having the best run in golf since Tiger in 2000 and 2001. We’re the ones creating the story there, and it’s just not interesting enough to us to be able to give the guy the time.
“I’m just talking about facts. In the last 13 majors, he’s had 11 top 13 finishes. That breaks down to eight top 10s, seven top 6s, six top 5s, 5 top 4s, three wins and a second. The last two majors that have been played, Brooks won by two over Tiger, and Tiger won by one over Brooks. We might be on the brink of the next great rivalry, the one we’ve wanted forever. In my mind, he’s the favorite coming into Bethpage, just based on facts. We’ve got a star on our hands.”
Bottke certainly agrees. “Three out of seven and a second in another one. A win or a top two finish in four out of seven is pretty impressive,” he added. “Brooks played well at the Byron Nelson, and Bethpage Black is a course set up for him, it’s long and wet. You’ve got him, Tiger, and DJ — they’ve got to be the top three favorites.”