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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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Even with broken driver, Salinda beats Hagestad at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2018, 2:52 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – With a trip to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals on the line, and with the Pacific Ocean staring him in the face, Isaiah Salinda piped a 330-yard drive down Pebble Beach’s 18th hole.

Not a bad poke with a replacement driver.

Salinda’s Round of 16 match against Stewart Hagestad got off to a rocky start Thursday afternoon with an awkward tee shot on the second hole.

“The ball came out weird, with no spin,” said Salinda’s caddie and former Stanford teammate, Bradley Knox. “He said, ‘Yeah, that felt weird.’”

Salinda looked at the bottom of his Callaway Epic driver and noticed a crack.

Worried that they'd have to play the rest of the round with only a 3-wood, Knox called a Callaway equipment rep, told him the issue, and was relieved to hear he'd meet them at the back of the third tee. Salinda teed off the next hole with a 3-wood – he’d taken driver there all week – and wound up in a tricky spot, on the side of a mound, leading to a bogey.

“Then they came over and cranked the driver,” Knox said. “It was like a NASCAR pit crew.”

The replacement driver was nearly identical – same head, same loft, same weighting – except for the lie angle. The new one was a degree flatter than his gamer, which led to a few more pulled shots than usual.

“It took a little while to recover the mindset that we’d had the rest of the week,” Knox said.


Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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Salinda downplayed the equipment malfunction – “I just had to adjust, and it wasn’t really a problem” – but he didn’t play well early. After trailing for just one hole during his first two matches, he was 4 over par and 2 down through 10 holes against Hagestad, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who’d finally made match play after eight previous failed attempts.

On 11, Salinda finally got going, stuffing a wedge shot to 10 feet and recording his first birdie. He followed with three clutch pars before another good approach on 15, leading to a conceded birdie to square the match.

On the home hole, Salinda bombed his drive about 30 yards past Hagestad and had 220 yards to the flag. It was a perfect 4-iron distance, and he sent a rocket into a blinding sunset.

“I never saw it,” Salinda said. “I told my caddie: ‘Where is that? I have no idea.’ But it felt good.”

A lone voice shrieked as the ball landed on the green. They knew the shot had to be tight. Years ago, Stanford senior Chris Meyers had made an albatross on 18 for a walkoff victory with Lee Janzen at the PGA Tour Champions’ First Tee Open. Knox thought they’d come close to duplicating the feat.

“Probably almost had a Chris Meyers,” Knox said, chuckling, as they walked up the fairway.

The shot never had a chance to drop – turns out the spectator was well-lubricated – but it still was only 35 feet away, for eagle. Salinda cozied his putt to a few feet and could only watch as Hagestad’s last-ditch 25-footer stopped a rotation short of the cup.

The Round of 16 victory continued a breakout summer for Salinda. His 15th-place showing at the NCAA Championship kick-started a three-month stretch in which he’s finally taken his game to the next level.

“He’s shown flashes of brilliance before,” Knox said, “and he’s had the game. But now he has the consistency and the confidence that it’ll come back time and time again.”

Salinda shot 62 in the third round and won the Pacific Coast Amateur, which boasts one of the strongest fields of the summer. Then he finished third in stroke play at the Western Amateur before a quarterfinal loss in match play.

Now he’s one step closer to his biggest victory yet – even with a backup driver.

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Salas (62) leads LPGA's Indy Women in Tech

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 12:50 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Lizette Salas' waited 77 minutes to line up her 4-foot putt to take the lead Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She refused to let the weather delay get to her.

When the 29-year-old California player returned to the course, she quickly rolled in the birdie putt, finished her round with another birdie at No. 18 and took a two-shot lead over Angel Yin and Nasa Hataoka with a course record-tying 10-under 62.

''I didn't even think about it the entire time,'' Salas said. ''I was hanging out with Danielle (Kang) and she was giving me her silly dad jokes. So it definitely kept my mind off of it. I was really excited to be back and to finish off with a birdie, from off the green, was the icing on the cake.''

It's the lowest score by a female player at the Brickyard Crossing.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson opened last year's inaugural tournament with a 63, one shot off of Mike McCullough's 62 in the PGA Champions Tour's 1999 Comfort Classic.

But the way the saturated 6,456-yard course played Thursday, Salas needed virtually every putt of her career-best round to reach the top of the leaderboard.

The morning starters took advantage of overnight rain by shooting right at the pins.

And nobody made a bigger early splash than Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who finished second in last year's rookie of the year race.

She opened with five straight birdies and shot 8-under 28 on the front nine. Only a par on No. 6 prevented her from becoming the sixth LPGA player to shoot 27 on nine holes. South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee did it most recently at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup.

Yin also tied the third-lowest nine-hole score in relation to par in tour history.

Her only bobble came with a bogey on No. 13 and she closed out her best career round with a birdie on No. 18.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


''I have never done that before,'' she said. ''I had nine putts, I think, on the front nine, which is incredible. I've never had that many little putts. But it just felt good. Everything was working.''

Last year's runner-up for rookie of the year has never won an LPGA Tour title in her home country though she did win in a playoff at Dubai on the Ladies European Tour.

Everybody seemed to find their groove Thursday.

Eighty-eight of the 143 players shot under par and 54 were 3-under or better.

And with more rain in the forecast Thursday night and Friday, the scores could go even lower as a star-studded cast chases down Salas, Yin and Hataoka.

Four players, including Kang and Jane Park, are three shots behind.

Seven players, including last year's tournament runner-up Lydia Ko, are four shots back. Ko was tied with Yin for the lead - until she knocked her tee shot on the par-4, 16th into the water. She wound up with a double bogey and birdied the final hole to finish with 66.

After taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion, Thompson looked relaxed and comfortable in her return to the course. She shot 68.

''It was hard for me to take the break because I didn't want to show weakness,'' she said. ''But at the same time, it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge that you need that kind of break and just take time for yourself, especially when you're in the spotlight like this.''

Salas, meanwhile, started fast with an eagle on the par-5 second and finished with a flurry.

She birdied three straight holes on the front side to get to 5-under, added birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 to get to 7-under and then birdied the final three holes - around the approaching storm - to put herself in contention for her first title since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

''I have been just striking the ball really well this entire year, and just glad some more putts dropped today,'' she said. ''I was really refreshed. I didn't practice at all last week, and I was just really eager and excited to be back.''

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Sordet opens with 62 to grab lead at Nordea Masters

By Associated PressAugust 16, 2018, 11:23 pm

GOTHENBURG, Sweden - Clement Sordet opened with four straight birdies to shoot 8-under 62 and take the first-round lead of the Nordea Masters on Thursday.

Sordet says ''I wasn't really focusing on the score, I was just enjoying it.''

The Frenchman, who shot his lowest European Tour round, has a two-stroke lead over Scott Jamieson of Scotland and Lee Slattery of England.

Hunter Stewart is the highest-placed American after a 5-under 65 left him on a four-way tie for fourth with Christofer Blomstrand, Tapio Pulkkanen and Richard Green.

Defending champion Renato Paratore's hopes of becoming the first player to successfully retain the title look in doubt after the Italian shot 9-over 79 at Hills Golf Club.

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Peterson confirms plans to play Web.com Finals

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 9:17 pm

After flirting with retirement for much of the summer, John Peterson confirmed that he will give it one more shot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals.

Peterson, 29, had planned to walk away from the game and begin a career in real estate in his native Texas if he failed to secure PGA Tour status before his medical extension expired. His T-13 finish last month at The Greenbrier appeared to be enough to net the former NCAA champ at least conditional status, but a closer look at the numbers revealed he missed out by 0.58 points in his last available start.


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But Peterson was buoyed by the support he received from his peers at The Greenbrier, and when he got into the Barbasol Championship as a late alternate he decided to make the trip to the tournament. He tied for 21st that week in Kentucky, clinching enough non-member FedExCup points to grant him a spot in the four-event Finals.

Last month Peterson hinted that he would consider playing in the Finals, where 25 PGA Tour cards for the 2018-19 season will be up for grabs, and Thursday he confirmed in an Instagram post that he will give his pro career "one last push."

The Finals kick off next week in Ohio with the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship and will conclude Sept. 20-23 with the Web.com Tour Championship. Peterson will be looking to rekindle his results from 2013, when he finished T-5 or better at each of the four Finals events while earning fully-exempt status as the top money earner.