Koepka's goal: Become world No. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 2, 2015, 8:56 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - For the longest time, Brooks Koepka was known primarily for the stamps in his passport.

His peers knew better.

As he began his first year as a PGA Tour member in the Frys.com Open last October, players would stop when they saw Koepka and watch him walk to the putting green or driving range. The consensus? This guy is going to be good.

More than the words of other players, Koepka now has the trophies to back it up.

He won the Turkish Airlines Open last November during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Against an even stronger field in the Phoenix Open, the 24-year-old Floridian went 64-66 on the weekend and played his last 47 holes without a bogey.

Koepka (pronounced KEP'-kuh) was among five players tied for the lead in the final hour, but only after rolling in a 50-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the 15th. He seized control when his 3-wood on the 322-yard 17th hole rolled over the green and stopped a foot from the water.


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One hole away from his first PGA Tour victory, on a closing hole at the TPC Scottsdale framed by bunkers, he blasted his drive 331 yards down the middle.

It was a strong performance, and it looks even better considering Koepka now has won twice in his last four starts, rose to No. 19 in the world and put his name into the conversation for a U.S. team at the Presidents Cup that is getting younger by the week.

Golf is going through an undeniable generation shift, led by Rory McIlroy, who won in Dubai on Sunday to expand his growing gap in the world ranking. Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old Texan, is No. 9 in the world. Patrick Reed, 24, won his fourth PGA Tour event at the start of the year.

Koepka was never mentioned in that group when he turned pro because he didn't have their credentials. He was the guy who pursued his career in golf's remote outposts - Kazakhstan and Kenya, Norway and the Czech Republic.

He had a decorated career at Florida State, though he never won a tournament until his senior year (and won three times) and played in the NCAA Championship only twice, never finishing higher than a tie for 18th.

Spieth was a Sunday feature at the Byron Nelson Championship when he was 16, joined Tiger Woods as the only multiple winners of the U.S. Junior Amateur, played on an NCAA title team at Texas and in the Walker Cup.

Reed helped Augusta State to a pair of NCAA titles and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

Koepka won a Challenge Tour event - the equivalent of the Web.com Tour in Europe - in Spain, and then tried his hand at Q-School for a PGA Tour card. He failed to get out of the second stage, missing by two shots in Texas. He wasn't alone. He tied that week with Spieth.

And that's when their paths went in different directions.

Spieth chose sponsor exemptions, and Monday qualifying if needed, on the Web.com Tour. He got a break by tying for second in the Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour after getting a sponsor exemption. Then came a rocket rise - Tour status in May, a victory in July and a spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Koepka headed for the airport.

He had status on the Challenge Tour from his win at the Catalunya Challenge, and he won in Italy in May. He followed with victories in Spain and Scotland to earn an instant promotion to the European Tour, each step bringing higher status. And he already had more wins than he did in college.

''Whether it be success or failure, I have learned a lot,'' Koepka said. ''I think I won maybe two, three times in college. But it's funny. Looking back, I have won on the Challenge Tour, one in Europe and one here now. It's been special. But my drive, I think, is what it is. I want to be the best player in the world. I'm not there yet, and I know it's going to take time. But I want to get to that point.''

And he runs in good circles. His roommate in Florida and frequent travel companion on the global road of the European Tour was former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who tied for 13th in Dubai.

He also plays practice rounds with McIlroy, whom he knows from Europe and living in South Florida, though they rarely see each other at home.

Koepka says he might be a late bloomer, though hard work cannot be dismissed. And he has no qualms with where he went to get to where he is now. He wanted experience. He wanted four rounds on Challenge Tour events instead of being hopeful for exemptions or lucky with Monday qualifiers.

He can't complain about the results.

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Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 9:38 pm

Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.

Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.

It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.

"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."

Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.

But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.

As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.

The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.