PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Brooks Koepka never met Kobe Bryant. But he hatched an idea last fall — one he had no clue would lead to anything with meaning this deep.
Koepka, wanting to honor Bryant during this week’s Genesis Invitational, approached Nike, one of his chief sponsors, about designing a pair of golf shoes in purple and gold in tribute to the longtime Laker, whom he described as one of the most “impactful” athletes in his life.
“I had sat down with Nike last fall, I think it was October,” Koepka said Thursday after shooting a 2-under 69 in the opening round at Riviera Country Club. “I was always a big Kobe fan. He was very impactful on my life. I never met him, but it was something we wanted to do. We came up with the idea [for the shoes] back then … and it was crazy.”
Koepka, who was playing in the Middle East when Bryant, his daughter and seven others perished in that Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., said he woke up around midnight to take his girlfriend, Jena Sims, to the airport and she told him the “quite shocking” news.
“I didn’t believe it,” Koepka said. “I was half asleep, 12:30 in the morning [in the Middle East]. I saw my phone was going off a lot, to say the least. Then Jena said that Kobe died. I didn’t really believe it at first, just kind of didn’t know what was going on. You’re like, ‘Is it true? Is it not? Is it rumor?’
“I texted a rep from Nike and I said, ‘We’ve got to do something; I’ve got to do something my next time in L.A.’ I completely forgot about the shoes [that already had been designed], so it was kind of a surreal moment thinking that I was already doing something five months in advance and then this happened. I’ve never cried over anybody I never met, and that was the first time.”
Koepka, who just lost his No. 1 world ranking to Rory McIlroy this week, said he was “kind of hoping” to be giving Bryant a pair of the shoes so “he could kind of see the impact he had on my life.”
“Hopefully, [I’ll] get these off for charity and raise money for everybody that was involved in the crash,” Koepka said of the shoes.