Koepka’s odyssey lands him on fairway to heaven

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ERIN—Brooks Koepka’s globe-trotting golfing odyssey landed on a fairway to heaven at the US Open on Sunday as he celebrated a brilliant first major victory.

The 27-year-old American took an unconventional route to the top, choosing to launch his career in the relative backwaters of the European Challenge Tour in 2012.

From those unglamourous beginnings, Koepka worked his way up to the full European Tour before later earning his PGA Tour card in 2014.

Along the way, Koepka has won titles in Turkey, Spain, Italy, Scotland and Japan.

But the biggest one of all arrived on Sunday with his win at Erin Hills, which matched the record of 16 under for the lowest winning total in US Open history.

“It’s pretty cool,” Koepka said after clinching a $2.8 million winner’s cheque and the famous US Open trophy. “I’d like to get a map and just look at all the places I’ve won.”

Yet Koepka revealed that his decision to launch his career in Europe, far from the support structure of family and friends in the United States, had almost become unbearable.

During a tournament on the Challenger Tour, he had come close to quitting, telling his manager he wanted to go home.

“There was a low point. Right before I won the final Challenge Tour event to get to the European Tour. And I think it was the night of the third round,” Koepka revealed. “I called him and I was like, I don’t even want to play. 

Brooks Koepka of the United States poses with the winner’s trophy after his victory at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisconsin.  AFP

“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 travelling. 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.

‘No fan of losing’

“For some reason I just wanted to get out and go home. I don’t know why.”

A fourth place finish at the 2014 US Open had given Koepka a taste of what it might be like to challenge for a major. Three more top 10 finishes followed, including a tie for fourth at last year’s PGA.

Koepka said Sunday he had been determined not to let his latest opportunity slip away.

“I felt like I put myself in contention so many times,” he said. “And I don’t want to say I 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 really quite came through.

“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.”

In recent years Koepka has forged a tight friendship with world number one Dustin Johnson, last year’s US Open champion.

Koepka revealed Johnson, who missed the cut in Wisconsin, had called him after Saturday’s third round to offer advice about how to cope with the final round.

“He told me ‘Just stay patient. Just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to win the thing, and just don’t get ahead of yourself,” Koepka revealed.

“It was a long phone call. For us it was like two minutes.”

Koepka, who played a leading role in helping the United States wrest back the Ryder Cup from Europe last year, said the experience of playing in the bearpit-like conditions of the competition had prepared him for Sunday.

“I think the Ryder Cup was kind of the first real taste of true pressure I think I’ve ever felt,” Koepka said.

Koepka meanwhile added that he was unaware that his 16 under total was a record low score when he walked up the 18th fairway.

“I did not know that. I wish I’d have gotten up and down on 18, I know that,” he joked. 

“It would have been nice. But it’s still a pretty cool accomplishment.” 

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