Brooks Koepka wasn’t giving up much. After all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But one thing the U.S. Open champion acknowledged was his golf clubs did not travel to Sin City in the aftermath of his June triumph at Erin Hills.
Aside from one round with his manager and another day for a photo shoot, Koepka did not pick up a golf club in the aftermath of his victory until arriving in the United Kingdom in advance of the British Open.
If that seems like too little time on the golf course preparing for the next major championship, well so be it. Koepka was going to enjoy the victory, and in his short professional career he’s figured out what works best for him, too.
In his first competitive round following the U.S. Open victory, Koepka did fire off an eagle, four birdies, and just a single bogey during the first day of the Open at Royal Birkdale, tying eventual champion Jordan Spieth for the lead.
That meant breaking par in seven straight major championship rounds and acting like a guy who expected nothing less.
“If I’m mentally recharged…I’ve done the same thing for years,” Koekpa said. “So it shouldn’t take too long to get back into it. But it was nice to get over here early and just kind of get a feel for the golf course and just kind of play again.”
Koepka said that on the Saturday night of the U.S. Open in Wisconsin, he made the decision to head to Las Vegas for a celebratory get-together with some of his friends. From there, he went to Los Angeles and then Atlanta and did not return to his Jupiter, Florida, home until July 1.
In the 13 days between the time he got home and got on a plane for The Open, Koepka’s golf consisted of that one round. He got back in the gym – “That was kind of the one thing that was kind of tough after everything we did, going to Vegas and all.” – and appeared to be missing none of the form that saw him capture his first major championship and second PGA Tour title. He ended up tied for sixth at the British Open.
But it was his U.S. Open victory that put Koepka on a different kind of map. He shot rounds of 67-70-68-67 and pulled away over the closing holes to win by four strokes over Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Koepka, 27, took a more obscure yet adventurous route to golf’s big stage. A two-time Atlantic Coast Player of the Year at Florida State, Koepka turned pro in 2012 but failed to earn his PGA Tour card at the annual Qualifying Tournament, which then gave immediate entry to the PGA Tour.
It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened as it forced him overseas.
Koepka had status on the Challenge Tour – the European Tour equivalent to the Web.com Tour – and won tournaments in Italy, Spain and Scotland in 2013 to earn a promotion to the big tour as well as a full exemption in 2014.
Along the way, he played in countries such as England, France, Belguim, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Kenya, and Portugal. He estimates having played tournament golf in more than 20 different countries.
And he impressed by doing so. After earning his third Challenge Tour victory in June of 2013 in Scotland, he boarded a late flight to London so he could participate in the next day’s 36-hole Open Championship qualifier. With little sleep, Koepka earned a spot, secured a practice round with Phil Mickelson at Muirfield, and earned the eventual champion’s praise.
“I can see why he earned the right to get on the European Tour by winning three times so quickly on the Challenge Tour,” Mickelson said. He also showed that there is another way to climb into golf’s top level outside of playing the Web.com Tour.
“Going that route, going over to Europe, it toughened me,” Koepka said. “It was a blessing in disguise. At the time I was extremely disappointed, as I’m sure Jordan Spieth was, too. Because I think we were at the same spot, finished two out of (exempt status).”
“But that just toughens you up, your drive. It makes you want to get out here that much more.”
Koepka learned to navigate a different maze of languages and cultures from week to week, the inconveniences of life from his South Florida home helping him gain perspective. He was the exact opposite of the ugly-American stereotype, and returned home and eventually to life on the PGA Tour a lot less likely to feel inconvenienced by a bad bounce at Erin Hills.
“He’s the most underrated American player in the world,” said Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion who grew up with Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, in Northern Ireland. “He’s under the radar over here. Most American players don’t do what he did. They prefer the lush courses at home. And the cars and the jets. Going overseas made Brooks a better player.”
With his tie for sixth at the British Open, Koepka has seven top-15 finishes in his past eight major championships.
Much like his friend, Dustin Johnson, he is an athlete who excels at golf. Both players work with Claude Harmon III (son of the legendary golf instructor Butch Harmon) and neither lacks confidence.
Perhaps the only thing missing for Koepka is victories. He’s won twice on the PGA Tour, his lone victory prior to the win at Erin Hills coming at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
There have been chances, such as a playoff loss to Sergio Garcia in 2016 at the Byron Nelson Championship. And he went 3-1 in his first U.S. Ryder Cup experience. But the wins have been fleeting, and maybe that is what is next for Koepka.
“I felt like that has been the thing lately with me, why I haven’t really played that well, a lack of patience, and I’ve been trying to win so badly,” he said. “I felt like I’ve underachieved. And the more patient I can become, the more times I’ll put myself in these situations.”
September 01, 2017