Masters: Brooks Koepka says players pay Augusta course 'too much respect'

Brooks Koepka reckons players pay Augusta National "too much respect" on the strength of tales of horror about the Georgia venue's slopey greens and is set to take dead aim in his bid to prove that in this week's Masters.

Brooks Koepka reacts to his eagle on the 13th green with caddie Ricky Elliott during the final round of the 2019 Masters at Augusta National. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Brooks Koepka reacts to his eagle on the 13th green with caddie Ricky Elliott during the final round of the 2019 Masters at Augusta National. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The four-time major winner is making his fifth appearance in the rescheduled major, having been in the Green Jacket mix on the back nine last year before finishing in a tie for second, one shot behind Tiger Woods.

Prior to that, Koepka's best effort had been a share of 11th position in 2017 and, though by no means an old hand, he is now starting to feel comfortable playing the Alister MacKenzie-designed course and, equally important, having his own opinion about the best way to tackle the test.

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“I think people actually respect it a little too much sometimes," said Koepka, who is among the favourites for the event's first staging in November, having been postponed in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You try to hit all these slopes and shots which I guess are crowd pleasers, but a lot of times it’s as simple as aim at the flag and if you pull it or push it, it catches the slope.

“There are different ways to get to the hole and you don’t always need to use the slope. You know, if you’re aiming at the slope and pull it or push it, you’ve missed it.

"So I think sometime it’s just being aggressive as you normally would, don’t try to respect it so much and see what other guys do. They’re looking to catch the slopes and things like that, but you can honestly be really aggressive.

“I just figured that out the more and more I played it. You’d listen to guys saying ‘with this pin you have to bring it off that slope’ but you don’t have to. You can just hit right at it and it’s not going to go there. Aiming two feet next to the flag is fine."

Koepka, who used a win in the 2013 Scottish Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore as a springboard to become a world No 1, though he’s now down at No 12, missed last month's US Open due to recurring knee injuries.He also had sit out the 2018 Masters due to injury, but, on the back of last year's strong performance, is feeling quietly confident about his chances this time around.

Hitting those greens is just part of the test, of course, as a silky touch is required to hole putts on them. “There’s definitely putts on the golf course where you could have 10 feet and it looks like it’s a right edge putt but really it’s a left edge putt," he added.

“There’s little things like that where I think the knowledge comes in. But there’s just a couple of places where it doesn’t break. If you practice enough and hit the putts you should then, you’ll know that.

“You do your homework. You’re watching other guys hit putts and they say, 'wow I can’t believe that happened'. So you’ll see it.”

One big difference about this year's event will be the absence of patrons, with the event behind played behind closed doors due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions. It will be an eerie scene when the two honorary starters, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, get the event underway on Thursday.

For Koepka, though, it will feel like business as usual. “I just feel excitement on the first tee, I don’t get nervous," he said. If you’re going to be nervous on the first tee, you’d might as well be nervous on the rest of them.

“I can see that the first time I played, yes I was a little nervous then, but, after that, it’s just been excitement and feeling ready to go."In last year's title tussle, Koepka followed a double-bogey 5 at the 12th in the final round with an eagle-3 at the next. He remained in the hunt with a birdie at the 15th but was unable to hole any clutch putts down the stretch as he finished a shot behind winner Woods.

"I mean, just putting yourself in contention again, that was really the big thing I got out of it," he recalled. "It's just one of those things where I feel like if I hadn't backed off it on 12, I hit a good shot, just I think we all know that wind swirls quite a bit there.

"The other big thing is, too, I think Tiger made it look a lot closer than it was. It was one shot but he had a two-shot lead coming up the last and all he had to do was make bogey to win and it's a lot easier. He played it where he took double out of play and gave himself a look at par, almost made it. He did everything right.

On 16, leaving it on that shelf was kind of a screw up for me, but it is what it is. I played good. There's some weeks we just get beat."

The 30-year-old is halfway to the career grand slam Rory McIlroy is chasing this week, having won the US Open in both 2017 and 2018 and the US PGA in both 2018 and 2019.

"Both of them," he replied, smiling, to being asked if he had to choose from the other two he's not won yet. “I’ll take my six pack.”

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