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Brooks Koepka: From European Challenge Tour opportunities to PGA Tour success

Sameer Bahl
FEATURED WRITER
712   //    04 Apr 2017, 18:26 IST
Koepka’s stock has risen fast and he is now a core top-50 player in the world

Brooks Koepka is not your average American PGA Tour player. He is one of the new-age professionals who have played in Europe and have a far more diverse understanding of the game. Koepka is well versed with more than just the parkland style of golf and it gives him a wider selection of shots to choose from plus added creativity.

Standing at 6 feet tall and with a well built physique, Brooks Koepka can over power the golf ball like only a few others can and has a distinct advantage in terms of length at most golf courses.

A three time All-American team member at Florida State university, he was born in West Palm Beach, Florida. He won three events during his collegiate golf career and qualified for the 2012 US Open as an amateur.

Also Read: Masters 2017: 5 contenders and favourites to watch for

Having failed to secure his PGA Tour card at the Q-school in 2012, he took the bold decision of heading over to Europe to play on the European Challenge Tour. That decision reaped huge rewards for Koepka and paved the way for a long career playing the game.

Jordan Spieth and Peter Uihlein were fellow golfers who missed out on spots on tour at Q school as well and Peter Uihlein took the same route as Koepka and parlayed the Challenge Tour into a spot on the European Tour. He was Koepka’s roommate back in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. 

"I was excited and had no hesitation," he says of playing overseas on the European Tour's feeder circuit. "Any chance to play against good players."

After spending the summer getting accustomed to varying European conditions and a different style of golf, Koepka announced himself with his first win at the Challenge de Catalunya in September, 2012.

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In May 2013, Koepka won by seven shots in Italy at the 2013 Montecchia Golf Open. A month later, he followed up with an even bigger performance by winning the Fred Olsen Challenge by setting the tournament record of 24 under par (260) and winning by an astounding record 10 strokes.

And in just three weeks time, he was a winner again at the Scottish Hydro Challenge. What these 3 big wins meant for the American was membership for the rest of the 2013 season and a full card for the 2014 season. He also made it to the 2013 Open Championship and finished in the top 15 on his debut as a member of the European tour at the 2013 Scottish Open.

He traveled to over 15 countries and at one point played for nine weeks in a row. He made trips to India, South Africa, Kenya, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, England, the Czech Republic, France, Kazakhstan and Scotland to name a few. His compatriot, Uihlein had his back when the going got tough for the young American out in Europe.

On the back of those big wins that jump started his career, Koepka was hungry for more and returned home to the US for the 2014 season opener, Frys.com Open. Koepka led the tournament after two rounds and then went on to record a fourth placed finish at the US Open that year which gave him a card for the 2014-15 season and an invite to the Masters.

He also finished a creditable 15th at the PGA Championship later that season and won the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour. He recorded third place finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and Omega European Masters. Courtesy of his good performances on both sides of the pond, Koepka won the rookie of the year honours on both the PGA and European Tours.

Koepka continued to go one better and registered his first win in the USA by claiming the Waste Management Phoenix Open over Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer.

The big win vaulted him up to 19th in the Official World Golf rankings and that meant spots in all four major championships. He had a particularly good showing at the Open Championship at St. Andrews and finished in a tie for 10th. He continued his impressive form with a fifth place finish at the PGA Championship.

Following his breakout victory, he decided to forfeit his European Tour membership. In 2016, he kicked on and tallied 7 top-10’s including two runner-up finishes and a third. He only missed three cuts and finished a creditable 35th in the FedEx cup standings.

As a result of his good performances, he made the US Ryder Cup team on points. Koepka spent a week sharing the same space as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson and their combined worldly accomplishments.

He picked up on minor details that the elite do differently from the average and he responded with vital points whenever he was called on. He along with Brand Snedeker formed a formidable team that put the only points on the board for the US in two sessions.

Also Read: What's In The Bag: Hero Indian Open 2017 Champion, SSP Chowrasia at the Kolkata Classic

They beat Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer 5&4 in the Friday afternoon fourballs and were the only team to add points to the US score. They were sent back out on Saturday morning and this time they beat Henrik Stenson and Matthew Fitzpatrick 3&2 to once again be the only team to add points to the US scoreboard.

He would go on to lose alongside Dustin Johnson against Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters in the Saturday afternoon session but bounced back like a true champion displaying no signs of nerve in his 5&4 demolition of Danny Willett on Sunday.

“I didn't know what to expect, but it really has been unbelievable,” Koepka said in the winner’s press conference that afternoon. “Everything that's gone on between the team room, to getting to know these guys that much better, it's surpassed everything I ever thought it would.”

Now, a mainstay on the PGA Tour and competing against the top golfers in the world, Koepka has embraced the challenge whole heartedly and thrived on the biggest stage in golf. He has a game that is comparable to Dustin Johnson’s, a fellow long-hitter with a quiet confidence and understated swagger.

They share the same swing coach, Claude Harmon III and Koepka has a similar stat profile as DJ’s with a high birdie average, solid strokes gained off the tee and mediocre wedge game (Dustin has since transformed it into a strength).

However, DJ has since heavily focused on overhauling his wedge game and he has now turned a former weakness to work in his favour. Koepka has room for similar improvement and can be a player who can stay in the top-10 of the world rankings for many years to come.

After winning in 2015, Koepka managed to finish second twice in the 2016 season but couldn’t quite get that pole position finish on the PGA Tour. He went head to head with Sergio Garcia in a playoff at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship but came out on the losing side.

Koepka did not go winless though and won overseas in Japan at the Dunlop Phoenix golf tournament. Alongside being one of the US stars at the Ryder Cup with a 3-1 record, he entered 2017, ranked 17th in the world. 

In the 2017 season so far, his best finish has been a solo second at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He has shown signs of good form entering the Masters week with a T-9 finish at the WGC-Dell MatchPlay event. The tall American has been constantly chipping away at it and gaining recognition with each passing season.

This week at the Masters, he will be playing at Augusta National Golf Club completely injury free for the first time and will be looking to better his best finish of T-21st in 2015. While a dislocated rib didn’t allow him to play his best in 205, he was suffereing with a herniated disc in his neck in 2016, something that he hadn’t revealed until a few days ago.

Koepka has big goals and said he wants to win a major or two within the next couple of years or else he’d be underachieving. He is also a firm believer in his abilities and says, "My expectations have always been to be the top player in the world," he says. "I don't think anyone wants to be mediocre."

Also Read: The week in golf on social media: The Rock's big claim, Mark Wahlberg's winter practice and Jon Rahm's fearless driving

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Sameer Bahl
FEATURED WRITER
Massive golf aficionado, former British universities golfer at University of the Highlands and Islands, and big equipment buff. Keen follower of all sports and passions include staying fit and running. PGA Of UK Level 1 Golf Coach who can introduce the basics of the game to beginners. Proud to have played some of the top 100 golf courses in Scotland and England. Golf is great!
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