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Koepka’s coming of age





It probably won’t go down as a classic, but the 2017 US Open made for compelling viewing nonetheless.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the USGA prioritised player placation over US Open tradition in terms of course difficulty. Certainly, an abundance of rounds in the mid-60s and a hatful of birdies are not what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in this typically-gruelling tournament. But who could begrudge the likeable Brooks Koepka his richly-deserved victory?

Final rounds at the US Open are usually wars of attrition, and with little separating the 27-year-old and Brian Harman on the front nine, that seemed to be where we were headed. Harman finding the fescue and making bogey at 12 was in keeping with that theme too. After all, it is he who makes the fewest mistakes that comes up trumps, right?

Koepka, however, sensed this wasn’t his national Open as he knew it. This wasn’t just about holding your nerve, and accumulating pars to get the job done. After Harman’s second successive bogey at 13, Koepka shifted gears, grabbed the trophy by the scruff of the neck, and blitzed his way to glory. Perhaps three successive birdies isn’t something he realistically could have accrued at Oakmont or Shinnecock. But it was thrilling, impressive stuff all the same. The instincts of a true champion.

A lot has been made of his journey to this point, and his time spent in Europe. I remember speaking to him in 2013, shortly after he’d won by a ridiculous 10 strokes in a Challenge Tour event in Spain. For me, it was difficult to contemplate why an American, who had the chance to develop his game nearer to home on the Web.com Tour, would want to be hacking it around Europe, facing the elements in unfashionable destinations on golf courses which are not always in great condition.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” he said back then. “But that’s the challenge, and it can only be a good thing for my game. Coming to Europe and focusing on the Challenge Tour is not for everyone, but it has been a wonderful experience for me personally. Every week is a new experience and you grow up quickly on the road.”

So it was with interest that I noted his comments in a presser shortly after his win on Sunday, as he recalled telling his manager he simply wanted to pack it all up, despite leading a tournament on the satellite tour at the time.

"There was a low point,” Koepka said. “Right before I won the final Challenge Tour event to get to the European Tour. And I think it was the night of the third round. I called him and I was like, I don't even want to play.

"I just want to go home. I was kind of -- I don't want to say homesick, it was just tired of golf. Tired of travelling. I just wanted to be home, even though I think I had the lead at that point and was about to win the third one.

"For some reason I just wanted to get out and go home. I don't know why."

It’s impossible to quantify the effect that pushing through those headwinds, and seeing his European experience through to the end, will have had on his career. Two years spent thousands of miles away from the comfort zone his fellow budding Americans were enjoying, culminating in a career-defining triumph at the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open. How do you put a price on that?

Graeme McDowell referred to him as “the most underrated American player in the world” last week. This win will have changed that, of course. But over the past few years, the gifted Koepka has quietly put some very solid foundations in place.

Slightly under the radar was his fine display at the Ryder Cup last year. Few will have noticed that he already had three top-five finishes at the majors prior to the US Open. And no one will have been writing headlines about the fact that he’s already accrued 29 finishes in the top 10 on the PGA Tour in just three years as a full-time player.

Yet it all bubbled to the surface at a long – albeit benign – Erin Hills last week, where Koepka showed on the biggest stage of them all that he is a lot more than just a steady journeyman. His victory continued an extraordinary sequence of seven successive first-time major winners. However, after the mettle he displayed on Sunday – and factoring in the sum of all the parts of his well-rounded career to date - it’s pretty obvious that the Floridian’s second will not be too far away.


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