U.S. Open win­ner Koepka im­pressed from an early age

At least two coaches pre­dicted big things for the young golfer from Florida.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Steve Wa­ters sports@la­times.com

Long be­fore Brooks Koepka was the U.S. Open cham­pion, mem­bers of the South Florida golf com­mu­nity could tell he was des­tined for suc­cess.

Among them was Hall of Fame golf in­struc­tor Bob Toski, who seven or eight years ago spent about 20 min­utes with Koepka’s fa­ther, Bob, watch­ing Brooks hit balls while he was home from Florida State Uni­ver­sity.

“Bob looked at me and said, ‘This kid’s go­ing to win ma­jors. Plu­ral,’ ” Bob Koepka said. “Are you se­ri­ous?” “Trust me, I know it when I see it.”

“I’m hop­ing you’re dead on.”

Koepka, 27, won his first ma­jor Sun­day at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, shoot­ing a five­un­der-par 67 on the fi­nal round to win by four shots. His to­tal score of 16-un­der tied a U.S. Open record.

It was Koepka’s sec­ond PGA Tour vic­tory. He won the Phoenix Open in 2015 and also had six in­ter­na­tional wins, as well as a 3-1 record as a rookie on the win­ning U.S. team in last year’s Ry­der Cup.

“The kid’s a cham­pion,” Toski said Mon­day. “It was pretty ob­vi­ous when he went on tour it was just a mat­ter of time as to how great he was go­ing to be.”

Greg Sher­man knew Koepka was some­thing spe­cial dur­ing the four years he coached him at Car­di­nal New­man High in West Palm Beach, Fla., be­fore Koepka grad­u­ated in 2008.

“I coached many fine play­ers at Car­di­nal New­man,” said Sher­man, who led teams to sev­eral state tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances and is a chap­lain for a provider of hospice care. “Of all the fine play­ers, I would say Brooks was right there at the top.”

Sher­man, who said he has known Koepka since the sixth grade, cred­ited his fa­ther and his mother, Denise Jakows, for their son’s suc­cess.

“I can’t say enough about how Bob and his wife and Denise have re­ally sup­ported him,” Sher­man said. “He’s re­ally ma­tured a lot and he had such a pos­i­tive, cool de­meanor about him [Sun­day]. He was very calm and col­lected.”

And so was his fa­ther, who watched the fi­nal round on TV.

“I had such a sense of calm­ness all day,” Bob Koepka said. “I woke up Sun­day morn­ing and my wife and I were talk­ing, and I said, ‘I’ve got a re­ally good feel­ing about this day.’

“He called me af­ter his work­out [Sun­day morn­ing] and I said, ‘You know Brooks, I’ve got a good feel­ing about to­day.’ I said, ‘I be­lieve in you,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I’m feel­ing good, I’m real con­fi­dent.’

“I said, ‘Don’t come home with­out the tro­phy, this is the one you want.’ ”

“That’s prob­a­bly one of the coolest things I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced,” Koepka said in a news con­fer­ence af­ter the tour­na­ment. “And to do it on Fa­ther’s Day, it’s pretty neat. I didn’t ex­actly get my dad a card, so this works.”

“It was a pretty good card,” agreed his fa­ther, whose younger son, Chase, is also a pro­fes­sional golfer. “Some­one asked me if this was your best Fa­ther’s Day and I said, ‘Yes, un­til next year.’

“It’s cool to be a U.S. Open champ’s dad.”

Toski re­mem­bered watch­ing Koepka hit shots at a coun­try club, where Bob Koepka was a mem­ber.

At the time, a coach at Florida State wanted Koepka to try hit­ting a cut like Ben Ho­gan. His fa­ther, aware that Toski had known Ho­gan, asked his opin­ion.

“When I saw Brooks hit golf shots, I said, ‘He’s a Babe Ruth, he’s a Lou Gehrig,’ ” Toski said. “I said, ‘You go back and tell your coach if he tries to change your swing, you don’t need the coach, you don’t need the team, you can just play four years in col­lege be­cause you’re go­ing to be a tour player and you’re go­ing to be a win­ner.’

“Brooks did his thing, and the coach didn’t do any­thing.”

The base­ball anal­ogy fits Koepka, who was a three­time All Amer­i­can at Florida State, be­cause his fa­ther’s un­cle was Dick Groat, the 1960 Na­tional League MVP with the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates.

Bob Koepka was a left­handed pitcher in col­lege and said Brooks, who played in his first golf tour­na­ment when he was 7, was a tal­ented short­stop, catcher and pitcher. But he gave up base­ball to fo­cus on golf when he was 12.

That de­ci­sion proved to have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions.

Jamie Squire Getty Images

BROOKS KOEPKA, above, this year’s U.S. Open cham­pion, was des­tined to win ma­jor tour­na­ments, Hall of Fame in­struc­tor Bob Toski said af­ter watch­ing the young man hit ball a few years ago.

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