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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

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Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm