Koepka takes road less trav­elled to US Open win

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

ERIN: Brooks Koepka took an un­ortho­dox path to reach­ing the goal of all pro­fes­sional golfers on Sun­day, but the 27-year-old Florid­ian said he would not change a thing af­ter claim­ing his first Ma­jor.

Koepka won the US Open by four shots, clos­ing with a five-un­der 67 at Erin Hills to tri­umph with a record­ty­ing 16-un­der to­tal, reach­ing the pin­na­cle of a pro­fes­sional jour­ney that be­gan five years ago on Europe’s sec­ondary Chal­lenge Tour.

The long-hit­ting Amer­i­can trav­elled far and wide, from Kaza­khstan to Kenya and main­land Europe, cram­ming into break­fast rooms with fel­low play­ers, spend­ing some nights sleep­ing in cars and learn­ing about life and how to win.

“Go­ing over to play the Chal­lenge Tour was re­ally, re­ally cool, to get to travel the world at 22 and do what you do for a liv­ing is pretty neat,” he told re­porters with the gleam­ing sil­ver US Open tro­phy by his side.

“To go over there, I think it helped me grow up a lit­tle bit and re­ally fig­ure out that, hey, play golf, get it done, and then you can re­ally take this some­where. And I built a lot of con­fi­dence off of that.”

Three quick wins in Spain, Italy and Scot­land earned him au­to­matic en­try to the Euro­pean Tour, where he won in Turkey in 2014. A tie for fourth at the US Open that same year helped Koepka earn his US PGA Tour card.

The fast-mov­ing Koepka cap­tured the 2015 Phoenix Open but de­spite often putting him­self in con­tention, the wins did not con­tinue to flow and from 21 top-10 fin­ishes on the US-based tour, he only had the one vic­tory.

“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,” Koepka said. “I felt like I just never fully came to­gether.”

Koepka said he found him­self try­ing too hard to win.

“I’ve been try­ing to win so badly. I felt like I’ve un­der­achieved,” he said. “I just felt like I should be win­ning more ... I just couldn’t stand the fact that I’d only won once.”

His friends and pro­fes­sional sup­port team preached pa­tience and pleaded with him to fo­cus less on ob­sess­ing about vic­to­ries and avoid get­ting down on him­self.

Guided by power-hit­ting men­tor and friend Dustin John­son, Koepka ded­i­cated him­self to fit­ness.

“I’ve worked my tail off over the last six months, made some changes, from grind­ing ev­ery day in the gym, try­ing to make sure that I was phys­i­cally ready and strong enough to be able to swing the club the way I wanted to,” he said.

This week he re­ceived pep talks from swing coach Claude Har­mon III, master short game coach Pete Cowen and from world No 1 John­son – last year’s win­ner.

“Dustin actually called me last night and told me the same thing: ‘Just stay pa­tient. Just keep do­ing what you’re do­ing, you’re go­ing to win the thing. Just don’t get ahead of your­self ’,” Koepka added. “It was a long phone call for us, it was like two min­utes.”

It all came to­gether this week for the tal­ented Koepka, who said he prac­ticed pa­tience and it paid off. As did his globe-trot­ting ap­pren­tice­ship as a pro.

“I look at all these places I won. I just won in Ja­pan in Novem­ber,” he said about the Phoenix event.

“And to win on the Euro­pean Tour in Turkey and (PGA Tour in) Phoenix. You look back at all the wins, even on the Chal­lenge Tour. It’s pretty cool. I’d love to get a map and just look at all the places I’ve won. It’s pretty cool.” THE WAIT for a South African player to win another Ma­jor will con­tinue, as Louis Oosthuizen was the best-placed SA player in 24th place at the US Open.

Oosthuizen carded a fi­nal round one-over 73 to end on three-un­der for the event, fol­low­ing ear­lier rounds of 74, 70 and 68.

The last South African to win a Ma­jor was Ernie Els at the Open Cham­pi­onship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012.

Oosthuizen threat­ened the lead on Day 3 when he was six-un­der for the day to pull within a stroke of top spot, but fell back to four-un­der by the end of the round. That bad fin­ish ef­fec­tively ended his chances at mak­ing a run for the ti­tle, as he started eight shots off the lead on Day 4.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Cham­pion, com­piled a quiet level par open­ing nine with one birdie and one bo­gey.

Mak­ing the turn, the 34-year-old bo­gied the par-4 10th, birdied the par-5 14th but bo­gied again on the par-4 15th and parred his way in to the club­house.

Mark­ing an im­pres­sive first cut made at a Ma­jor in his third at­tempt, Brandon Stone fin­ished on one-over for the tour­na­ment with rounds of 70, 74, 72 and 73 for a share of 35th.

Bran­den Grace strug­gled on the fi­nal day to a 77 to end on four-over for the week, tied 50th.

Els, play­ing in his fi­nal year ex­emp­tion of the US Open, faired bet­ter than his round three 79 by shoot­ing 74 to con­clude his cam­paign on seven-over in 55th place. – Reuters and ANA

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