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.


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage


“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.” 

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.