Chronicling the Unique and Determined Career Path of Brooks Koepka
From the peaks of Aviemore to the highs of Erin Hills, Sunday in Wisconsin was the major culmination in what has been a unique career progression for Brooks Koepka, whose professional life began on Europe’s uncompromising second circuit, before impressively ascending through the ranks to the upper echelons of the game within four years. Challenge Tour to the U.S. Open.
Many within the United States raised eyebrows at the thought of two young Americans – Koepka and close friend Peter Uihlein – embarking on their journey across the Atlantic, seemingly defying the ordained path of College-Web.Com-PGA Tour. However, traveling the world and experiencing a variety of conditions, breaking free of the blanketed comforts of home was ultimately the venture that built the character of a dominant U.S. Open champion.
“I felt like playing four rounds a golf would benefit me a lot more than trying to do one-day events, Monday qualifiers or things like that,” the Floridian said of that decision after winning his first PGA Tour in Phoenix. “I thought playing four days is a big adjustment. Professional golf, when you're finally playing for money or whatever it may be, it's different and the travel.”
Turning pro five years ago, Koepka was an instant success on the Challenge Tour, winning in Spain that September. His time in Europe was originally expected to be a brief excursion, but he fell just short of making it onto the PGA Tour through Qualifying School. It was a deeply bitter experience to digest, but a formative one that bred a greater level of determination and will to succeed.
Electing to take advantage of his status across the pond, Koepka was a force across the continent in 2013, winning in Italy, Spain (again) and Scotland. That final title – at Macdonald Spey Valley - secured a place on the main European Tour, but it had been proceeded by a dramatic sense of disillusionment that provided an insight into the challenges of being a young professional abroad.
“There was a low point. I called Blake Smith, my manager, I think, right before I won the final Challenge Tour event to get to the European Tour,” the 27-year-old revealed. “And I think it was the night of the third round. I called him and I was like, I don't even want to play. I just want to go home. I was kind of -- I don't want to say homesick, it was just tired of golf. Tired of traveling. I just wanted to be home, even though I think I had the lead at that point and was about to win the third one. For some reason, I just wanted to get out and go home. I don't know why.”
Describing himself as being mentally strong, Koepka overcome those doubts to triumph in the Highlands of Scotland, before traveling south to Sunningdale where he qualified for that year’s Open Championship; a handful of days that made a significant difference to his self-perception. “It was a big confidence boost. I've always said, it doesn't matter where you win. Winning's winning. It's hard to do, especially in golf.”
Known to close observers of the game, Koepka stepped into the heady realms of the mainstream in 2014, finishing in fourth place in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, before enjoying a huge breakthrough in Turkey, where he fended off an illustrious field of players to secure his first European Tour victory. It wouldn’t be long before he carried that winning formula back to the United States.
Winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open a few months later, Koepka had underlined his status as potentially the next major star for American golf, but found himself comparatively overshadowed by the triumphs of Jordan Spieth and more recently Justin Thomas, both of whom junior in age to the Florida State-alumnus.
Driven to achieve his goals and climb the ladder, the Ryder Cup – which he had watched from Europe in 2014 – was the next objective, and one that he ticked off in stunning fashion last year at Hazeltine, playing a starring role for Davis Love III’s successful team. That was Koepka’s first taste of the loudest platform in golf, and an experience that undoubtedly provided an assist this past week.
“I think the Ryder Cup was kind of the first real taste of true pressure I've ever felt. I don't get too nervous,” he added. “And to be honest with you, this week I don't think I ever got nervous, not at one point. I just stayed in the moment.”
Koepka has the air of someone not distracted by the potential of making history, but rather simply being focussed on the task in hand. And that was obvious throughout his final round on Sunday, which he tackled assertively, playing simply to win without anything else creeping into mind. That decisive mentality is what ultimately helped to separate him from the rest.
That winning feeling. pic.twitter.com/Lv0VtFDHKP— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) June 19, 2017
Despite his worldwide success, Koepka had viewed himself as an underachiever, failing to capitalise on opportunities and not adding to his list of titles since that victory in Arizona over two years ago. “I'd won once on the PGA Tour, once on the European Tour. And I felt like I put myself in contention so many times. And I don't want to say got unlucky, I felt like I just never fully came together. I put myself in some good chances over the majors over the last few years and never quite came through.
“But I just felt like I should be winning more. I don't know why. It's one of those things, not a big fan of losing, I don't think anyone out here is. And I just couldn't stand the fact that I'd only won once.”
Just a few months ago, Koepka underlined that feeling of unfulfillment to Golf.Com, and his desire to correct it. “My mind always works five steps ahead of where I am, so I think I need to win a major or two in the next two years. If I don't, I feel like I'd be underachieving and not playing to my abilities,” he said.
That has now been addressed in the most clinically impressive of fashions, with a formidable display that shouldn’t be underplayed. Powerful, athletic and possessing a calm demeanour that conceals a burning confidence and determination, Koepka strode the lengthy yardage of Erin Hills with the lazily assured gait of Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
In many respects, he is the archetypal modern professional golfer, possessing a game that can unlock any course, winning on what was an atypical venue for the second major of the year. Now having achieved his most pressing of objectives, Koepka will reassess his own position, but there won’t be any hesitation about what’s next in view.
After his maiden title in America, he stated: “You know, I want to be the best player in the world. I'm not there yet, and I know it's going to take time, but I want to get to that point.” He will certainly feel a giant leap closer to the summit today.
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