From CordeValle to Kenya, Koepka learning from playing opportunities

By Rex HoggardOctober 14, 2013, 3:34 pm

Some Sunday nights are more eventful than others.

“This is tough,” Peter Uihlein allowed, almost breathless as he rockets the remote control between the closing moments of the New England Patriots-New Orleans Saints game and the final round of the Open.

Uihlein is New England to his core. As for the Open, that was personal with his roommate Brooks Koepka locked in an unlikely struggle to win his first PGA Tour title. Open: Articles, videos and photos

The Pats pulled it off thanks to a last-minute toss from Tom Brady. Koepka did not, done in by four bogeys over his final 10 holes and relentless Jimmy Walker. Uihlein’s optimism, however, remained undeterred for both franchises.

“He is the most confident kid I’ve ever met,” he said of Koepka.

But then you’d have to be confident to blaze a trail through the weeds of European professional golf all the way to the PGA Tour doorstep. What else would drive Koepka to forego the normal means to an end for Tour membership for the four corners of the globe if not confidence?

Since Koepka bolted Florida State University late last year he has been, along with Uihlein, on the path less traveled, at least by American standards.

Since putting a peg in the ground in his first play-for-pay event last October in Italy, Koepka has plied his trade in 14 countries, from the Czech Republic to Kenya with cameos at the Open Championship and PGA Championship.

“He had to get more pages in his passport,” laughs Claude Harmon III, who took over as Koepka’s swing coach in early March.

It’s why, in his own globetrotting way, Sunday’s letdown at CordeValle – he led by as many as four strokes before the turn – will be another check mark in his development more than a disappointment.

“Obviously I just didn't get it done,” said Koepka, who tied for third following a closing-round 72 at the Open. “You know, it happens. Just learn from it and move on.”

If Koepka’s take is a tad too optimistic he’s come by it honestly.

From the outset the 23-year-old has just wanted a chance not charity. It’s what convinced Florida State golf coach Trey Jones to take a flyer on the unheralded Koepka.

“He didn’t have much of a junior record and I told him I would be limited as to what I could do for him with a scholarship,” Jones recalled. “He told me, ‘Don’t give me anything, I just want a place to play.’”

That performance-driven approach propelled Koepka to be a three-time All-American at FSU and, after four stellar years in Tallahassee, Fla., it was a similar conversation that convinced him to bypass the normal road to the PGA Tour for the wilds of the European Challenge Tour.

Simply put, he just wanted a place to play.

Koepka’s management team, Hambric Sports, secured him a few sponsor exemptions on the secondary European circuit and he quickly earned status on that tour, and before July he’d already won three times to earn a battlefield promotion to the European Tour.

Koepka and Uihlein, who has moved to 68th in the World Ranking playing the European Tour almost exclusively, don’t look the part of trailblazers but with the Tour’s overhauled qualifying process now more closed off to young talent as ever they have become, however reluctant, the Lewis and Clark of modern professional golf.

The number of Americans playing European Tour Q-School doubled this year to 57 and following the inaugural Finals this month that number is likely to increase in coming years.

“What he and Peter are doing is pretty much what I saw Adam (Scott) and Trevor (Immelman) and Paul Casey do back in the day,” Harmon said. “No disrespect to the Tour, but if you look at the players who started their careers on the European Tour, Justin (Rose), Trevor, Adam, they all went on to win major championships. If you look at Brooks and Peter, they appreciate things more. They appreciate getting a rental car because it wasn’t so easy.”

It’s probably why Koepka made things look so easy for 3 ½ turns at the Open. Compared to the trains, planes and automobile way of things on the Challenge Tour, life is easy in the Big Leagues.

Although he didn’t win, Koepka earned $240,000 for his tie for third at CordeValle, which gets him about halfway to special temporary Tour status, and a start at this week’s Las Vegas stop, not to mention a spot inside the top 100 in the World Ranking (81st). Combined with a likely start at next month’s OHL Classic in Mexico, Koepka seems poised to trade his passport in for a full-time Tour pass before January.

That reality was the subtext of Uihlein’s passive anxiety late Sunday. Although best friends, the south Florida combo is as competitive as they come, both on the golf course and beyond.

Before Koepka headed to California for last week’s start he arrived on the practice tee at The Floridian with a simple message for Harmon, “I’m tired of getting my butt kicked by Peter.”

The two have a regular Tuesday game which started after they were included in Phil Mickelson’s Tuesday match at this year’s PGA Championship.

“It was me and BK against Phil and Rickie (Fowler),” Uihlein said. “We lost on the 18th. But ever since then we’ve started playing each other with a little more on the line.”

That alpha male mentality spilled over into the duo’s south Florida digs during a recent Ping-Pong match that resulted in a broken Ping-Pong table. “I dove for a long shot right into the table,” Uihlein said. “I was winning and wasn’t going to give up the point.”

A new table arrived on Monday, but with both players jet-setting their way to stardom around the globe the rematch will have to wait. At this rate, the duo’s next clash may end up being on a Tour Sunday with much more than just pride on the line.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.