Becoming Brooks: The road to a major title

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2017, 3:29 am

ERIN, Wis. – Half a world away, playing his eighth European Challenge Tour event in nine weeks, Brooks Koepka was ready to come home. It was June 2013. The then-23-year-old was in the lead, and on the verge of a life-changing promotion, when he called his manager and vented.

“He was burned out, worn out,” Koepka’s agent, Blake Smith, recalled. “It was just so much travel, but we were trying to pump him up and tell him to finish it off – and he did.”

Almost four years to the day after launching his pro career – in Scotland, of all places – the most well-traveled young American in golf looked right at home Sunday, his arms wrapped around the silver U.S. Open trophy.

With an athletic frame, massive firepower and indifferent attitude toward, well, most everything, Koepka can make elite golf look effortless. But don't be fooled, because his journey here was anything but easy.

Lightly recruited out of high school, Koepka often butted heads with Florida State coach Trey Jones over – get this – his on-course comportment. Indeed, the same guy who now confounds observers with his steely gaze and confident stride and jock swagger was a raging hothead who stunted his own development. His tantrums were so destructive, and so legendary, that coaches began to video him on the course to teach him a lesson later.

“Over the course of 54 holes in college, or 72 holes in a pro tournament, he realized just how draining it is,” said his younger brother, Chase. “He channeled that into what you see now.”

Jones said it took several spirited “man-to-man talks” to straighten out his star, and though Koepka was a three-time All-American, he didn’t win until his senior year.


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“He finally had to realize that he was losing a competitive advantage,” Jones said. “He was giving the other person he was playing against strength, he was losing energy, and he worked on it. He still has it in there a little bit, but that’s the fire that he has.”

After graduation, Koepka flunked out of Q-School on both sides of the pond and was left with few options. So in 2012, he packed his bags and headed to Europe, where he became the rare young American to tee it up on the Challenge Tour. From Norway to Kazakhstan, Qatar to Kenya, Portugal to Oman, Koepka apprenticed in 25 countries across three continents, often crammed into B&Bs with three roommates, and required 20 extra pages for his passport.

During that time he became a more well-rounded, mentally tough player, as he competed in a variety of conditions. But in overcoming the culture shock he also learned a few invaluable life skills: Motivation. Purpose. Balance.

“Not everyone can do it,” Smith said. “Not everybody is as tough as he is to get that done. It’s not a path, but he made it his and it’s pretty special.”

That victory in Scotland – made possible after the late-night, international call with Smith – propelled Koepka onto the European Tour. Later that summer, and looking for a long-term caddie, he worked with veteran looper Ricky Elliott for the first time.

“After two shots, I’m like, This boy is gonna be good,” Elliott said. “I just held on to him. It wasn’t a hard decision.”

Koepka tied for fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open and later became the European Tour’s Rookie of the Year, boosting his world ranking enough to come home. Back in his comfort zone, he broke through on the PGA Tour for the first time in early ’15, pounding his driver, his greatest weapon, all over TPC Scottsdale en route to a victory in the desert.

Still, even though he never was The Guy – not in junior golf, not in college and not early in his career, at least not compared to his major-winning peers – Koepka believed he was a massive underachiever.

“It never really came together,” he said. “I just felt like I should be winning more.”

Two developments helped push him across the finish line.

First, Koepka found an unlikely mentor in Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1 who only recently shook the reputation as an extravagantly talented tease.

On Saturday night, with Koepka playing in the penultimate group at the U.S. Open, Johnson rang his frequent practice partner, fellow gym rat and South Florida wingman. Those two will never be confused as the sport’s deepest thinkers – “It was a long phone call for us – like two minutes” – but it was just what Koepka needed to hear.

Stay patient.

Keep doing what you’re doing.

Don’t get ahead of yourself.

You’re going to win.

“There’s no doubt it’s one of those things [with DJ] that if you can do it, there’s no reason I can’t do it,” Elliott said.  

The second career-changer was Koepka’s debut last fall at the Ryder Cup.

Paired in the team format with Brandt Snedeker, Koepka was one of the Americans’ most important players, flashing his all-around game with a 3-1 record and appearing immune to pressure.

Snedeker’s favorite memory from that week came during the Saturday foursomes session.

“On the 12th hole, he stands up and dead-cold shanks one, the worst shank I’ve ever seen," Snedeker said. "We started laughing hysterically, and we somehow halved the hole. The next hole is a brutal par 3, 240 yards, and he hit a 4-iron to 6 feet, probably the best shot I’ve ever seen under pressure. It never left the pin. I said to myself, This kid has something different than most guys.”

Koepka’s performance at Erin Hills left little doubt about that.

One shot behind Brian Harman to start the final round, Koepka turned what was a tight race into a laugher. He ran off three birdies in a row on Nos. 14-16 to shoot 16-under 272 and tie the U.S. Open record for lowest score in relation to par.

All throughout what should have been a tense afternoon, Koepka mirrored his bash brother DJ and strolled the fairways with remarkable ease, chest out and shoulders back, unwavering in his belief that he had the goods to dominate. He was, in a word, his favorite word, "chill."

Watching on TV in Omaha, Neb., where the Seminoles were playing for the College World Series title, Jones marveled at his former player's drastic transformation.

“To see how calm and cool and relaxed he was …” he said, “I give him all the credit in the world for that attitude change.”

On Sunday night, with his boss at the trophy presentation, Elliott reflected on their four-year run together, a whirlwind journey that has taken them all around the globe, all the way from Wales to Wisconsin.

“To win on his home turf, I think it’ll take a while to sink in,” Elliott said.

“I think he’ll even smile.” 

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.