09 August 2017

Playing Catch-Up

Once again, the US Open has spawned a new champion. The winner of the 117th US Open had been struggling to align himself with the world's elite golfers and his own vision of himself. For Brooks Koepka, the victory is one he’s been chasing since he began his journey as a professional golfer five years ago.


A year into his professional career, Koepka ranked 263rd in the world, now he’s 10th. Brooks has spoken in the past about visualizing himself as one of the world’s best golfers and at last, his dream has come true. In 2015, when asked about his ambition, Koepka explained how he saw himself as part of an exclusive group with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day. 


“Even though I’m not in it—nowhere near it,” said Koepka, as quoted by Golf Digest. “My mind is already 10 steps ahead, which maybe it shouldn’t be. But I don’t want to change that because it makes a difference—maybe all the difference. I see myself there, which makes me figure out why I’m not there, and what do I have to do to get there. I’ve always played catch-up that way.”


Koepka became a golfer because of a problem with his nose, what was it?

At the age of 10, he was involved in a car accident and his nose and sinus cavity were broken on the dashboard. The accident meant that Koepka wasn’t allowed to play any contact sports. As a result, he chose to take up golf. “To be honest, I’m not a big golf nerd,” said Koepka, as quoted by Business Insider. “Golf is kind of boring, not much action. I come from a baseball family, and it’s in my blood.”


What’s his golfing journey been like?

Koepka’s amateur experience was not particularly impressive. As a junior, Koepka was not a national star or even highly recruited out of high school. Although Koepka was a three-time All-American at Florida State, he didn’t win a tournament until his senior year.

When he turned pro in 2012, he failed at the Q-school alongside Jordan Spieth.

Koepka then played on the Challenge Tour, the second-tier of the men’s European Tour. There he won multiple titles and the Rookie of the Year Award but didn’t get much attention in America. He joined the PGA Tour in 2014 and became known to US golf fans after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2015.


A year after turning professional Koepka considered quitting golf. Why?

When he played on the Challenge Tour in Europe, Keopka traveled far and wide, from Kazakhstan to Kenya and mainland Europe. The idea of quitting suddenly occurred to him. “It was a low point,” said Koepka, recalling the moment, which was when he was leading a tournament in 2013. “I called my manager, Blake Smith, that night and I was like ‘I don't even want to play this final round - I just want to go home’. I don't want to say I was homesick, I was just tired of golf, tired of traveling. Even though I had the lead, I just wanted to get out.”


He didn’t quit and stayed on the Challenge Tour. What did being on it teach him?

The Challenge Tour helped Koepka to grow up. He figured out “hey, play golf, get it done, and then you can really take this somewhere. And I built a lot of confidence off of that. I experienced different cultures and it was the coolest experience in my life.”

Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s swing instructor since 2013, saw that the Challenge Tour made his student better as not only a golfer but also as a person. “You’re catching buses and trains, dealing with foreign languages, playing bad courses, and you learn to find a way. He really learned how to improve, which is so important,” added Harmon.


There have been reports that Dustin Johnson contributed to Koepka winning the US Open title. What did DJ do?

The world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, made a motivational phone call to Koepka on the night before the final round. DJ told him to take one shot at a time and to remain patient. “It was a case of ‘just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to win the thing. Just don’t get ahead of yourself’,” said first-time major winner Koepka of the two-minute phone call that helped lead him to the biggest achievement of his career.


There are three athletes who inspire Koepka, who are they?

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods are his favorite athletes thanks to their mental toughness and work ethics. Koepka believes they became so great because they were willing to sacrifice everything to be so, they will do anything to win, and it really bothers them to lose. Koepka had an encounter with one of his idols, Jordan, in a match at the Bear’s Club. “I was one up on the 17th tee and called out the score. Michael looks at me says, ‘Fourth quarter, baby.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ Then, with strokes, he wins the last two holes. How he did that? That’s what I’m after,” recalled Koepka, as quoted by Golf Digest.


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