Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka: A rivalry to ignite golf?

McIlroy (left) says the two players are still "good friends" and that only if Koepka's comments are taken out of context can they be viewed as an issue
McIlroy (left) says the two players are still "good friends" and that only if Koepka's comments are taken out of context can they be viewed as an issue

Golf is a sport that gives you a proverbial kicking just when you least expect it.

A player can believe they have the game sussed, only to find that when the pressure is dialled up they are as fallible as ever. A wayward drive, a duffed chip or a three-putt arrives out of the blue.

It applies at any level, even to the blessed few at the very top. Such is the character of this simple ball and stick game, where the only people who can muck it up are the players themselves.

When we hear the crowing of a cocky golfer, we are sure they are not far short of a fall. And this perhaps explains why the sport rarely generates much hostile trash talk among its competitors.

But world number one Brooks Koepka is a refreshing change from the norm. Here is someone perfectly happy to speak without compromise, even when he is talking about his own talents and those of his rivals.

The 29-year-old Floridian has become well worth a listen as well as a look. He dishes out verbal jabs and ensures the perceived chip on his broad shoulders continues to feed undoubted ego and a fearsome competitive edge.

His comments might be more restrained than from boxers hyping their next bout, but by golf's standards Koepka is increasingly outspoken. He talks with the psyche of a fighter while his words set much of the sport's narrative.

The contrast between him and his peers was illustrated by his recent comments on a potential rivalry with Rory McIlroy. While Koepka gave blunt bombast, the man he discussed responded with respectful diplomacy.

"I've been out here for, what, five years? Rory hasn't won a major since I've been on the PGA Tour," Koepka asserted before last week's CJ Cup. "So I just don't view it as a rivalry."

This is pretty stinging stuff. Pundit Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel said it was "disrespectful" and it was certainly not from the more well-mannered traditions of the game.

It is not the way the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones, who historically set the ambassadorial template, ever spoke of fellow players.

And McIlroy - sometimes not short of an opinion himself - was careful not to add fuel to Koepka's flames.

"What Brooks said wasn't wrong," admitted the 30-year-old Northern Irishman, who last won a major in 2014.

"He's been the best player for a couple of years, with four majors. I don't think he had to remind me I hadn't won one in a while, but you know," McIlroy smiled.

In fact, the last encounter the Ulsterman had with Koepka resulted in McIlroy pocketing the $15million PGA Tour playoff jackpot in Atlanta. It was a notable victory against his American rival.

Nicolas Colsaerts claimed his first victory for seven years in Paris
Nicolas Colsaerts claimed his first victory for seven years in Paris, to ensure he keeps his European Tour card for next season

"I said a couple of things after the Tour Championship in terms of how I approached that final round like a little bit of a rivalry because he got one over on me at Memphis and I sort of wanted to get him back," McIlroy added.

And the world number two is not averse to genuine duel between the two developing. "I think that's good for the game," he said.

For it to develop into something seriously big though, McIlroy is going to have to step it up at the majors as Koepka has suggested. Men's golf could then thrive off an exciting, headline-generating dynamic.

That said, it is not always needed. The beauty for the purist is that smaller storylines, ones that might not grab massive attention, abound at most tournaments.

An example is Nicolas Colsaerts' emotional French Open victory last Sunday, the popular Belgian's first triumph for seven years coming at a time when he was fighting to retain his European Tour card.

Another performance of note came at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where Tyrrell Hatton finished in a share of sixth place behind Justin Thomas, which allowed the Briton to clamber back into the all-important top 50 in the world.

Currently 49 in the standings, he will surely take nothing for granted. No-one ever should, of course, even the world's best player.

Fresh off his comments on McIlroy, it is worth noting Koepka carded rounds of 69 and 75. He then slipped on wet concrete and aggravated a long-standing left knee injury which prompted withdrawal from the Korean tournament.

That is the way with golf, something will always get you. But hopefully he will be back in action soon.

It is never dull when Koepka is around.