If you were going to build a modern American sports superhero, you could fall many standard deviations further from the archetype than Brooks Koepka.
The 28-year-old embodies everything we -- especially us Americans -- look for in our idols. Not sports idols, just idols period. Good looks? Check. Powerful presence? Check. His highest gear off the tee is usurped by maybe two three other players. Does things "The Right Way?" Sure, you're sooner going to see him skull a 100-yard wedge shot than say something inflammatory in a press conference.
He ticks all of the boxes. Beautiful sidekick, mega rich, Nike endorsement, terrific athlete (who's also not a geek), cool under pressure. Literally all of them. Most importantly, he's a winner. Winning both covers up a multitude of flaws and is the engine that drives our outsized devotion to folks we've never met and will never meet. We love winners because we think, That's how I would be if I was rich, famous and supremely talented.
"He loves the pressure of it," his caddie Ricky Elliott said recently about Koepka at majors. "In smaller events he does get a little bit flustered, but in majors he's unbelievably focused. And as the pressure goes up, the more even-keeled he gets. It's completely the opposite of what everyone else does."
And yet ... the one thing Koepka lacks is affection from the mass of people seemingly obsessed with all of the qualities he displays but curiously not obsessed with him.
On one hand, I don't understand this at all. As Americans, we hunt for heroes like oxygen. We need them in our lives. They are part of our culture. They are our culture in some ways. And when one comes along as perfectly constructed as Koepka -- with his three major championship wins in 19 tries as a professional and arms the size of the trophies he wins -- we ... dismiss him? Ignore him? Feign ambivalence because we're more interested in other golfers who are far less successful?
If Jordan Spieth had done with Brooks Koepka did in 2018, the takes would have melted the silver which constructed all of his trophies. Better than Tiger. Better than Jack. The best athlete of all time.
We didn't get that with Koepka, nothing even close. On the other hand, I do get it. Koepka is not a great quote. His too-cool-for-Q-school vibe can be off-putting and, as Chris Solomon of No Laying Up noted on a podcast we did following Brooks' PGA Championship victory, he really wants you to know that he doesn't care about any of this.
Although sometimes this has been a good thing for other athletes. When Russell Westbrook doesn't care about any of this, we celebrate and cheer and say, Yeah, you shouldn't care about any of this. We celebrate him for it! That's not the case with Koepka.
As Eamon Lynch of Golfweek noted, some of this is Koepka's own fault.
Cereal celebrities are obliged to perform before the cameras as much as on the field of play, and Koepka has repeatedly declined the glitzy media tours that usually await a major champion. A modern PGA Tour golfer who doesn't moonlight as a pitchman, who simply plays and goes home, is condemned to life below the radar.
The confounding part of all of it is that I'm not sure even Koepka knows what he wants. He has, sometimes within the same quote, both acted miffed at the lack of attention and completely shrugged it off.
"[The media] has their guys they wanna talk to," Koepka told Golf Digest at the Tour Championship after not being invited to the pre-tournament press conferences. "I'm not one of them and that's fine."
Definitely doesn't care.
"You've got guys who will kiss up, and I'm not gonna kiss up," Koepka added. "I don't need to kiss anyone's butt. I'm here to play golf. I'm not here to do anything else. A lot of guys are known for the stuff they do off the golf course and who they like to hang around. It's pretty obvious who's doing that and who isn't. I don't need to bend over backwards to be friends with anyone [in the media], but certain guys do that because they want their names written. I'd rather be written about because of my play.
"Sometimes it does suck, but I've started to care less. Come Sunday, I won't forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don't forget things."
OK, definitely does care.
And so what we're left with is an elite champion who seems confused about how he wants to be perceived. So maybe it actually makes sense that the public is confused with how to perceive him. He's in the purgatorial state where people can't total embrace him as a hermit but he's also not going to shake hands and kiss babies after 72 holes of perfection.
Still that doesn't excuse the way he's often covered within sports media. Koepka was recently left off a list of the most dominant athletes of 2018 by ESPN, which could be explained away by saying that people just don't care about golf except that Ariya Jutanugarn, who only won one major in 2018, was No. 4 on the list.
I don't know what the next few years will look like for Koepka, whether he's already won his last major or he's only halfway home to becoming one of the all time great American golfers at major championships. I don't know if his persona, his essence will become more or less embraced within a sports culture that says it loves the very characteristics he possesses.
What I do know is that golf has been given yet another superstar in the thick of his prime at maybe the best time for golf in its history. Nobody dominated 2018, but if someone got the closest, it was Koepka. That's something to be celebrated and excited about going into 2019. Even if he doesn't (or does!) care if you do so.