Defending champion Koepka looks to deliver more PGA punishment on 'big boy' course at Valhalla

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Brooks Koepka called them “punishment workouts” — the heavy menu of sprints and weightlifting that sap the color from his face, put him on the verge of throwing up, and leave him dreaming of ways to avoid that kind of torture in the future.

Those came not long after Koepka — never a man to get cheated during a “regular” workout — finished 45th at the Masters.

Five weeks later, he’s at Valhalla — a “big-boy golf course,” as he described it — looking to defend his title at the PGA Championship. He has won this tournament three times on similar monster layouts — a reality that makes him the third favorite (14-1) this week and would seem to point at a lesser chance of similar workouts in the near future.

“I mean, I’m not looking for the punishment workout,” he said. “I just get told.”

Though majors are the benchmark most players measure themselves against, no one in the game is as vocal about taking it to extremes as Koepka.

It might explain why his trainer, Ara Suppiah, dialed up the tough workouts after Augusta, and why Koepka has as many major victories (5) as he had “regular” wins on the PGA and European tour (4) before he left two years ago. It also might be why his move to LIV for guaranteed multimillions might have impacted him less than it did others.

“It’s always the peak of our sport or the four times a year we play in majors,” he said. “That’s kind of the only thing. But there’s no real difference” between getting ready for one as a PGA Tour player versus as a LIV player.

In between Augusta, Valhalla and the weight room, the 34-year-old, who also has two U.S. Open titles on his resume, did win a LIV event in Singapore earlier this month — as good a sign as any that whatever he was struggling with at Augusta has been rectified.

“My swing is never off,” Koepka said. “It’s always either something with alignment and ball position, and I kind of get back to those fundamentals and that’s the key for me.”

Over the past two years, Koepka has done the most to eliminate an early narrative in professional golf's breakup — that the LIV guys, either because of age, or diminishing skills, or the lack of testing on the limited-field, no-cut, 54-hole circuit, could no longer compete with the best players in the biggest events.

Last year, Koepka slept on the lead Saturday night at the Masters, and ended up finishing second behind Jon Rahm, who himself would later join LIV. Then, a few weeks later, Koepka won the PGA at Oak Hill, becoming the first LIV player to win a major.

If Koepka wins this week, he would join Woods and climb one behind Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list of PGA winners in the stroke-play era that began in 1958.

PGAs are largely viewed as the closest thing the majors offer to a “regular” tour event.

Even though Koepka isn't into “regular” events, a more punishing version of a regular event — in this case, add steady rain this week that will make Valhalla play even longer than its listed 7,609 yards — feels like the sort of tournament that sets up perfectly for a player who lives for the tough stuff.

“It’s just it’s a grinding week,” Koepka said. “You’ve got to be fully locked in. I feel like you can’t take one shot off. It’s always, you’re one shot away from making a double-bogey, and that’s what I love.”


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