By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Like many golf fans, one of Brooks Koepka’s most vivid Masters moments involves three-times champion Phil Mickelson.
Pulling it up from deep inside his childhood memory banks, Koepka recalled in detail on Tuesday his meeting with Mickelson near the Augusta National parking lot two decades ago when a starry eyed kid with dreams of being a Masters winner one day cornered ‘Lefty’ for an autograph.
“He turned me down, (I am) probably about the only kid Phil’s ever turned down,” recalled Koepka with a chuckle. “He told me years later, I shouldn’t have been in the parking lot so fair enough.
“He doesn’t remember. I mean, I can’t believe he doesn’t remember the first time he ever said no to a kid, signing an autograph.
“I told him, I think in 2014, I think we were playing a practice round at the British Open. I had to tell him. I was like, ‘Listen, man, you stiffed me and I really didn’t like you for a long time’.
“We can laugh about it now.”
Fast forward 20 years and Koepka is a three-times major winner signing autographs at Augusta National — the only hint of a scar left from the Mickelson brush-off is his difficulty in saying ‘no’ to a little kid.
Koepka said he has since got Mickelson’s autograph and this week will be focused on getting his own name on the Masters trophy and slipping into a Green Jacket.
In each of his three previous Masters, the 28-year-old American has made progress but is still without a top-10, with his best finish a tie for 11th in 2017.
He watched last year’s tournament from his couch recovering from a wrist injury.
He returns to Augusta National as a far different player, having since won three majors, back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2017 and 2018 along with the 2018 PGA Championship.
“I’ve got three trophies that I haven’t had any time I’ve teed it up (here),” said Koepka. “I’ve never been a major champion when I played here.
“Completely different player probably. (I) Understand how to handle pressure a lot better, understand this golf course a lot better. Even sitting out a year, there are certain things you can pick up on when you’re watching.
“And (I have) really kind of matured on and off the golf course. I think it is a big deal.”
“It’s nice to be back here. It’s always a special place to be playing.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)