Brooks Koepka says in an interview with Golf Digest that Ryder Cup week is hectic and “a bit odd” because it takes him from his individual routine and leaves him no time to decompress.
It was enough to make Paul Azinger wonder if Koepka should even play next week.
“I’m not sure he loves the Ryder Cup that much,” Azinger said during a conference call for NBC Sports, where he now serves as the lead golf analyst. “If he doesn’t love it, he should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love the Ryder Cup.”
For Azinger, the Ryder Cup is personal.
He played four times and is best known for his dispute with Seve Ballesteros and an epic battle with Nick Faldo in 1993 that led to a draw. Azinger also was known as “Captain America” in 2008 when he introduced a pod system to get the players more invested. The US wound up beating Europe at Valhalla that year.
Koepka never said in the wide-ranging interview he didn’t like the Ryder Cup. He has played on the last two teams, and even competed on an badly injured ankle in the 2016 PGA Championship in a bid to qualify for the team, which he did.
“I don’t want to say it’s a bad week,” Koepka told Golf Digest in a Q&A. “We’re just so individualized, 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 has back-to-back wins in the US Open and the PGA Championship and has a reputation for playing his best in the majors. He does his own thing and says it’s important to switch off when he’s not playing.
The Ryder Cup is different.
“It’s tough,” Koepka said. “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,” he said. “It’s so far from my normal routine.”
Some of his comments reflected the thinking of Rory McIlroy, who has played every match since his first Ryder Cup in 2010. McIlroy was asked about the team concept two weeks ago at the Tour Championship.
“You can be all buddy-buddy, try to be the best teammate you can,” McIlroy said. “At the end of the day, I want to go out and win my point. That’s all I can do. I’m a professional golfer, and by nature, I’m pretty selfish, and there’s no point in not being selfish in that.
“The best thing you can do to be a team player is win your point.”
The topic came up during the conference call when Azinger was asked what advice he would give to US captain Steve Stricker on handling the prickly relationship between Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
Azinger said both players are capable of putting the team on their shoulders and “carry this Ryder Cup team, and they can also be a royal pain in the neck.”
And then he referenced the interview with Koepka, who is recovering from a wrist injury that occurred when he hit a tree root under the turf at East Lake at the Tour Championship.
“Not everybody embraces it,” Azinger said of the Ryder Cup. “But if you don’t love and you’re not sold out, then I think Brooks — especially being hurt — should consider whether or not he really wants to be there.”
Azinger suggested the decision would be easier considering his beef with DeChambeau.
“Brooks is one of the most candid, most honest guys there is, and if he’s blatantly honest with himself and doesn’t want to be there, he should come out and say it,” Azinger said.
It sounds as though Koepka has made up his mind. In a text to Golfweek on Wednesday night, he said, “I’ll be there ready to play.”
PGA — Jon Rahm, the top-ranked Spanish star, had two birdies and two bogeys in an even-par 72 in the first round of the Fortinet Championship, leaving him well back of the leaders at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif.
“I was having a hard time focusing given the fact that I haven’t had a solid meal since Tuesday morning,” Rahm said. “My best guess is just a little run down from the season. Maybe having a little bit too much good rich food Monday and Tuesday just did it for my stomach.”
Rahm began feeling ill earlier this week and pulled out of the pro-am Wednesday to rest. He said he felt worse than when he tested positive for COVID-19 in June and was forced to withdraw from the Memorial after leading by six strokes through three rounds.
“Way, way worse,” Rahm said. “That Saturday I couldn’t have given you any more diagnosis than maybe a light cold based on what I was feeling that day. I would have never guessed it was COVID. So yeah, I feel way worse right now than I did.”
After the disappointment at Memorial, he won the US Open at Torrey Pines in June for his first major championship. He won the money title, the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average and had 15 top-10 finishes.
Rahm said he’s also motivated by being passed over in the player of the year honors that went to Patrick Cantlay, who won the FedEx Cup after edging Rahm by one stroke at the Tour Championship.
“I played amazing golf,” Rahm said. “What could have been if certain unfortunate situations didn’t happen, right? I could have had maybe one more win and the chance to compete for a medal. To think it could have been better does nothing but motivate me. I know I can get better.”
Chez Reavie had the lead at 65 after the morning wave, with Cameron Tringale and Adam Hadwin a stroke back.
LPGA — Carlota Ciganda overcame an early double bogey in chilly morning conditions for a 4-under 68 and a share of the first-round lead in the Cambia Portland Classic in West Linn, Ore.
The only member of the winning European Solheim Cup team in the field, the Spaniard teed off with the temperature in the low 50s at hilly, windy and tricky Oregon Golf Club.
“This morning, some shots the ball was flying 10 to 12 meters less, at least for me on the range,” Ciganda said. “I was like, `I need to adjust this on the golf course because it is so cold.’”
Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland also shot a 68 in the morning, and Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand grabbed a share of the lead in the afternoon. Anannarukarn won last month in Northern Ireland for her first LPGA Tour title.
US Senior Women’s Amateur — Lara Tennant captured the US Senior Women’s Amateur for the third straight time with a 2-and-1 victory over seven-time USGA champion Ellen Port in the rain-delayed championship match at The Lakewood Club in Point Clear, Ala.
Tennant, a 54-year-old from Portland, Ore., pulled ahead on the back nine of the Dogwood course when Port missed the green on the par-5 12th and the par-4 14th. They matched bogeys on the 15th hole and pars on the next two holes to end the match.
Tennant’s only loss in the US Senior Women’s Amateur was her first match in 2017. She won in 2018 and 2019, and the championship was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She will try to join Carol Semple Thompson as the only players to win the Senior Women’s Amateur four straight times.