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Positioned for another major, Koepka won't be ignored

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2018, 10:46 pm

ST. LOUIS – Hours before he tied a PGA Championship record with a second-round 63, Brooks Koepka was clearly still miffed at what had transpired the previous day. Swaggering around his rental house on Friday morning, Koepka told his team: “I bet they’re going to interview me this afternoon after I go out and shoot a low number.”  

Not a single reporter had wanted to talk with Koepka after his opening 69 at Bellerive, and he’s sadly growing accustomed to the lack of interest.

Never mind that he’s one of the game’s most complete players.

Never mind that he’s No. 4 in the world rankings.

Never mind that, at age 28, he’s the reigning, back-to-back U.S. Open champion.

“The attitude that he has in majors is that he wants to win as many of these as possible to show a lot of people how good he is,” said Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III. “But he’s the most under-the-radar major champion who is No. 4 in the world that’s ever been around.”

In this major-obsessed sport, it’s worth remembering that Koepka has more major titles than Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas and Jason Day. More than Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler, too. He has only one fewer than Jordan Spieth – and that could change as early as Sunday, with Koepka now sitting just two shots behind Gary Woodland halfway through this PGA at Bellerive.

And so it’s worth exploring whether the disrespect is real or imagined. After all, athletes in every sport search long and hard for a slight, just so they can throw a chip the size of Missouri onto their chiseled shoulders in hopes that it’ll give them an edge on game day. That’s usually not as effective in a non-contact sport, but Koepka has found himself beating back the haters since college.


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“I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I’ll be nothing, working at McDonald’s,” he said. “The whole time, you’re just trying to prove them wrong. You’re always trying to prove somebody wrong. Sometimes your haters are your biggest motivators.”

But how can there still be haters now?

Some felt that Koepka didn’t receive the proper recognition for his U.S. Open title at Erin Hills, where the wind didn’t blow and the players went low and Johnny Miller dismissed it as the Greater Milwaukee Open. If Koepka needed validation, he found it two months ago at Shinnecock, on one of America’s classic courses, on an entirely different test. He outdueled Johnson, the world No. 1, head to head, and became the first player in nearly 30 years to win consecutive U.S. Opens.

Koepka is a proven big-game hunter, the rare player with more major titles (two) than regular PGA Tour victories (one). His U.S. Open repeat extended a Grand Slam résumé that is consistent and well-rounded, with a top-15 finish in every major, and 11 total in just 19 career appearances. According to ShotLink, he’s the fifth-most under par (2 under) of any player in the majors since 1997 – and that’s after missing two majors in the past three years because of injury.

“He comes to these things with something to prove,” Harmon said, “because he wants to prove to everybody that he’s a great player, because he’s overlooked.

“The rest of the players and the caddies, they just say, ‘We don’t get it. This guy is a f------ baller. He shoots zero every time he tees it up.’ He focuses so much on the majors because he knows his career will be defined by that. It was very important for him to win before guys like Jon Rahm and Rickie and Justin Thomas, who get a lot more fanfare.”

Of course, there’s no true metric to gauge whether a player is overlooked or underrated, underappreciated or under the radar. But there are anecdotes, and Harmon has several while working 12 weeks a year as a Sky Sports analyst.

At last year’s U.S. Open, Koepka shot 68 in the first round and again didn’t receive a media request. An hour later, as they were leaving the course, Harmon received a call saying that a TV reporter wanted to interview Koepka. “We waited there for 10 minutes!” Harmon said. “You guys weren’t interested!” Three days later, Koepka won.  

Before this year’s PGA, he was summoned to the media tent for a pre-tournament news conference. The interview room here holds about a hundred people. Tiger Woods’ press gathering was standing room only; Koepka’s attracted nine PGA officials and 13 reporters.

Late Thursday afternoon, Koepka stood around his bag, waiting for a PGA media official to tap him on the shoulder and direct him to the interview area. But the request never came. Surprised, he headed to the range, hit a few balls and left.

After the first round of the U.S. Open, the defending champion didn’t make the notables page on the leaderboard. (“To not be looked at as the favorite but still defending was quite an interesting feeling, I guess you could say.”) After the first round here at PGA, there were a few TV segments on the club pros’ play, but no highlights of Koepka’s round.

“We watch all this stuff and we marvel at it,” Harmon said. “He’ll keep winning and you guys will keep ignoring him. You guys are so focused on other people.”

So why no love for the two-time major champ?

Why the disconnect between his success and the unwavering belief that he’s gone underappreciated?

It’s curious, because Koepka would appear to have the total package. He’s 28. He’s handsome. His muscles have muscles. His girlfriend is a model and actress. He oozes jock swagger. He’s hungry.


Photo gallery: Best of: Brooks Koepka and Jena Sims


Media apathy likely plays a significant role. Spieth and Rory Mcllroy are media darlings – eloquent speakers and gifted storytellers who so often provide compelling answers. Koepka possesses a high golf IQ, but he’s also wholly uninterested in round-by-round minutia. So by comparison, Koepka can be viewed as brusque and uncharismatic, with a demeanor that suggests a root canal without Novocain would be more enjoyable.

“His goal is to get to No. 1 in the world, but you’d never know that because he doesn’t say that, and because no one ever asks him: ‘Brooks, what are your goals long-term? What do you want to achieve?’ That’s the funny thing. I’ll always ask, ‘How was your press conference?’ And he’ll say, ‘I got a lot of questions about DJ, and that was about it.’

“If you guys would interview him and ask him real questions and probe him the way you probe the others, it’d be a different story. He’s a very interesting person. If you ask him golf-nerd questions, he’s not going to sit there and be a golf nerd, because he’s not that person. He’s never been that person. That’s not how he operates.”

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to peel back the layers of Koepka’s story, of course, because he’s not going anywhere.

Under Harmon’s watchful eye, he bashes 330-yard drives with a controlled fade. His short game is vastly improved thanks to Pete Cowen. He finished last season ranked 12th in putting.

“The way the game is played right now, he’s going to continue to have opportunities unless they change the rules of the sport,” Harmon said. “He’s just starting to scratch the surface of his ceiling. He can just do things others can’t.”

The only thing he can’t do, it seems, is get the proper credit for what he’s accomplished.

That might finally change this weekend.

A third major title, and Brooks Koepka would be awfully hard to ignore.

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Thompson bounces back from rule violation

By Randall MellAugust 19, 2018, 2:22 am

If Lexi Thompson’s trouble in the sixth fairway brought back any painful memories Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, she shook them off in a hurry.

If the approach of another rules official amid a spirited run of brilliant play rattled her, she didn’t show it.

Thompson posted an 8-under-par 64 in the third round despite another awkward rules infraction.

Her round was impressively bogey free but not mistake free, and so her work will be a little harder Sunday chasing Lizette Salas.

After incurring a one-shot penalty for violating a local rule in effect for preferred lies, Thompson will start the final round five shots back instead of four.

She knows she’s fortunate she isn’t six back.

If a rules official hadn’t witnessed Thompson in the middle of committing the infraction, she could have been assessed an additional penalty shot for playing from the wrong spot.

Thompson got the penalty after stepping on the 10th tee and blowing her drive right, into the sixth fairway. She got it after picking up her ball over there and lifting, cleaning and placing it. She got it because she wasn’t allowed to do that in any other fairway except for the fairway of the hole she was playing.

The preferred-lie rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

The story here isn’t really the penalty.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


It’s Thompson’s reaction to it, because she opened this week in such heartfelt fashion. After skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open to take a month-long “mental break,” Thompson revealed this week that she has been struggling emotionally in the wake of last year’s highs and lows. She opened up about how trying to “hide” her pain and show strength through it all finally became too much to bear. She needed a break. She also candidly shared how the challenges of being a prodigy who has poured herself into the game have led her to seek therapists’ help in building a life about more than golf.

That’s a lot for a 23-year-old to unload publicly.

Last year may have been the best and the worst of Thompson’s career. She said dealing with that controversial four-shot penalty that cost her the ANA Inspiration title, watching her mother battle cancer and losing a grandmother were cumulatively more difficult to deal with than she ever let on. There was also that short missed putt at year’s end that could have vaulted her to Rolex world No. 1 for the first time and led to her winning the Rolex Player of the Year title. She still won twice, won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and was the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year.

That’s a lot of peaks and valleys for a young soul.

That’s the kind of year that can make you feel like an old soul in a hurry.

So seeing a rules official approach her on Saturday, you wondered about Thompson gathering herself so quickly. You wondered what she was thinking stepping up and ripping her next shot 215 majestic yards, about her hitting the green and saving par. You wondered about how she  bounced back to birdie 13 and 14 and finish bogey free.

With this week’s soul bearing, you wondered a lot about what rebounding like that meant to her.

We’re left to wonder from afar, though, because she wasn’t asked any of those questions by local reporters afterward. The transcript showed three brief answers to three short questions, none about the penalty or the challenge she met.

Of course, there were other questions to be asked, because local rules have been an issue this year. Did she read the local notes with the preferred lies explanation? She got hit with another local rules issue in Thailand this year, when she hit her ball near an advertising sign and moved the sign, not realizing a local rule made the sign a temporary immovable obstruction.

Of course, there were other good stories in Indy, too, with Sung Hyun Park poised to overtake Ariya Jutanugarn and return to Rolex world No. 1, with Salas holding off Park so brilliantly down the stretch Saturday.

Thompson, though, is the highest ranked American in the world. She’s the face of American women’s golf now. A face more tender, resolute and vulnerable than we have ever seen it.

Folks along the ropes watching her on the back nine in Indy Saturday got to see that better than any of us.

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Salas capitalizes on Park gaffe to take Indy lead

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 2:07 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Lizette Salas waited patiently for Sung Hyun Park to make a rare mistake Saturday.

When the South Korean mishit her approach shot into the water on the par-4 16th, Salas capitalized quickly.

She rolled in her birdie putt then watched Park make double bogey – a three-shot swing that gave Salas the lead and the momentum heading into the final round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship. Salas closed out her 8-under 64 with a birdie on No. 18 to reach 21 under – two shots ahead of Park and Amy Yang.

“I have been striking the ball really well, and I just had to stay patient,” Salas said. “And yeah, putts dropped for sure. I just really felt comfortable.”

If she keeps it up one more day, Salas could be celebrating her first tour win since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship and her second overall. With five of the next six players on the leader board ranked in the world’s top 30, Salas knows it won’t be easy.

The changing weather conditions weather might not help, either. If the forecast for mostly sunny conditions Sunday holds, the soft greens that have kept scores at near record-lows through the first three rounds could suddenly become quicker and less forgiving.

But the 29-year-old Californian seems to have the perfect touch for this course, which weaves around and inside the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

She shot three sub-par rounds and finished tied for fifth last year here. This year, she has three more sub-par rounds including a course record-tying 62 on Thursday and has been atop the leader board each of the first three days.

“I have been so confident the whole year,” Salas said. “I have a different mentality, I’m a different player. So I’m just going to go out and play as if I’m behind.”


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


Salas’ toughest challenge still could from Park, who spent most of Saturday flirting with a 54-hole scoring record.

She birdied the last four holes on the front side and made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to reach 21 under with a chance to become the sixth LPGA player to ever finish three rounds at 23 under.

The miscue at No. 16 changed everything.

She never really recovered after dropping two shots, settling for par on the final two holes for a 66 after shooting 68 and 63 the first two days. Yang finished with a 65 after going 68 and 64.

“I was a little weary with right-to-left wind,” Park said. “I think a little bit of weariness got to me, but overall, it’s OK.”

Defending champion Lexi Thompson was five shots back after completing the final nine of the second round in 2 under 34 and shooting 64 in the afternoon.

She made up ground despite being assessed a one-stroke penalty after hitting her tee shot on No. 10 into the sixth fairway and lifting the ball without authority. Rules officials had implemented the preferred lies rule because more than an inch of rain had doused the course.

Thompson still made her par on the hole though it temporarily broke her momentum after making six birdies on the front nine in her first appearance since taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion.

“Twenty-seven holes, I definitely had a few tired swings toward the end,” said Thompson, who finished each of the first two rounds with 68s. “But overall, a lot of positives. I hit it great. I made some really good putts.”

Three players – Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Jin Young Ko of South Korea and Mina Harigae – were tied at 15 under. Ko started the third round with a share of the lead but had three bogeys in a round of 70.

Now, all Salas has to do is cash in one more time.

“I’ve been knocking on the door quite a bit in the last four years, haven’t been able to get it done,” Salas said. “I’ve got good players behind me, I’ve just got to play my game.”

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Bradley leads Dick's Sporting Goods Open into final round

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 12:28 am

ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Michael Bradley shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the PGA Tour Champions' Dick's Sporting Goods Open.

The 52-year-old Bradley had five birdies and a bogey in the rain-delayed round to reach 11-under 133 at En-Joie Golf Club. A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, he's seeking his first victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Bart Bryant and Marco Dawson were tied for second. Bryant, the 2013 winner at En-Joie for his lone Champions title, had a 67. Dawson shot 70.


Full-field scores from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open


Wes Short Jr. (65), Clark Dennis (70) and Tom Gillis (69) were 9 under, and Kenny Perry (69) was 7 under with first-round leader Doug Garwood (73), Mark Calcavecchia (69), Woody Austin (71), Jerry Haas (68) and Scott Parel (68). Perry won the 3M Championship two weeks ago in Minnesota.

Bernard Langer, the 2014 winner, was 5 under after a 69. Defending champion Scott McCarron had a 71 to get to 1 under. John Daly, the winner of the PGA Tour's 1992 B.C. Open at En-Joie, was 6 over after rounds of 73 and 77.

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Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list


The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.