Monday, 24 December 2018
Brooks Koepka lifts the U.S. Open Championship trophy after winning the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills  (Getty Images)
Brooks Koepka lifts the U.S. Open Championship trophy after winning the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills (Getty Images)

How do you become the number one player in the world and a multiple Major Champion?

There are various ways, but for Brooks Koepka, who this year took top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time and became the first man to successfully defend the U.S. Open since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989, his path meant moving from his Florida home and cutting his teeth in Europe.

Now a three-time Major winner and ranked as the best player in the world, Koepka was plying his trade on Europe’s top developmental tour, the European Challenge Tour, just five years ago.

After playing college golf at Florida State University, Koepka jetted to Europe for his first Challenge Tour season in 2012 where he finished 43rd in the Rankings, winning once at the Challenge de Catalunya.

Touted as one of the most talented young players in world golf, Koepka had struggled for form in the lead up to his maiden victory and went into the tournament with winning not on his mind.

"I really had no expectations coming into this week,” he said. “I guess I regrouped with my game and my mentality and it just felt really good this week. My game feels great now and I hope it continues that way.”

That victory laid the foundations for what was to come and the following year – his first full season on the Challenge Tour – proved to be his last on the second tier as he won three times to secure automatic promotion to the European Tour.

Triumphs at the Montecchia Golf Open presented by Polaroid, the Fred Olsen Challenge de España and the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts meant he waved goodbye to the Challenge Tour and set his sights on bigger prizes.

And those bigger prizes soon came. With four top tens to his name in 2014 – including one at the U.S. Open – as his maiden European Tour campaign edged towards its conclusion, Koepka became a European Tour winner at the Turkish Airlines Open, securing eighth place in the Race to Dubai after the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

Two winless seasons on the European Tour followed, but the American’s next victory ensured his name would forever be etched into golfing history.

Going into the final round of the 2017 U.S. Open one shot behind overnight leader Brian Harman, Koepka knew he had a fight on his hands. But, as any current or former Challenge Tour player knows, every round on Europe’s second tier is a fight, and Koepka was more than ready for what was to come at the very highest level.

As Harman faltered, Koepka pounced. Three back nine birdies ensured the Florida native sailed to a four-shot victory to secure his first Major, and the Challenge Tour was at the forefront of his thoughts after being crowned Champion.

“You look back a couple of years ago to being on the Challenge Tour, four guys driving around in a little mini car, four golf bags packed in there, to be the U.S. Open champ is pretty cool,” the newly crowned U.S. Open winner said.

"To go over to Europe and kind of cut your teeth over there and be able to play in different conditions is what you need to do.

"I built on those wins on the Challenge Tour, any time you can win you're going to have confidence and I look back at those."

He successfully defended his Dunlop Phoenix Tournament title later that year before entering 2018 as a reigning Major Champion; with more still to come.

After spending the first four months of the season out injured, his first Major of the year was the U.S. Open, at the notoriously difficult Shinnecock Hills.

Koepka’s title defence would require every piece of his armoury and he had it all to do after posting an opening five over 75, but a four under 66 ensured he was one off the lead at the halfway stage, with scoring proving difficult.

Despite a two over 72 on Day Three, Koepka shared the lead on three over par with 18 holes to play, giving him a real chance of making history.

And on Sunday June 17, 2018, Koepka did just that. Despite Tommy Fleetwood posting a sensational 63 to set the clubhouse lead at two over, Koepka held his nerve to card a two under 68 and beat the Englishman by one shot.

The first man to defend the U.S. Open since Strange in 1989. The first man to defend any Major since Padraig Harrington won back-to-back Open Championships in 2007 and 2008. The World Number Four with top spot in his sights. Brooks Koepka was the man in world golf.

But what was on his mind on the eve of The 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links? That’s right, the Challenge Tour.

“The Challenge Tour was a bunch of fun and by far the most exciting time in my life,” he said on his return to Scotland, the country of his most recent Challenge Tour win in 2013. “I have said this a million times, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.

“Looking back on it, I probably wish it could have lasted a bit longer, but then part of me doesn’t because I can move on. But they are memories I will have for the rest of my life.”

One of the most attractive things about Europe’s second tier, according to Koepka, is the tight-knit nature of the players competing over the continent.

“I enjoyed it way more than I probably do now, playing on the PGA Tour,” he said.

“In the States, you have your team and other people around, such as your wife or girlfriend and guys go home to them.

“You don’t see guys coming out for dinner or watching the football matches together.

“It felt like the whole tour was on the plane and you would get there and everybody would be staying in a small town and going out to eat together.

“The whole restaurant would just be guys who were playing on the tour.”

The 28 year old was unable to add to his Major haul at Carnoustie, but it wasn’t long before he returned to the winners’ circle again.

The year’s final Major, the US PGA Championship, was staged at Bellerive Country Club and Koepka, rightly, was placed among the favourites as one of the most in-form men on the planet.

Sitting two shots from the summit at the halfway stage thanks to opening rounds of 69-63, Koepka was in the hunt for a third Major of his career and a second of the year.

A third round 66 handed him a two-shot lead with one round remaining and that’s how it stayed – but not without a bit of drama.

His advantage was wiped away by defending champion Justin Thomas on the front nine and then by the resurgent Adam Scott on the back nine, but Koepka showed that cool head for which he has become known by recording birdies on the 15th and 16th to sign for a 66, a 16 under total and a two-shot victory.

Another Major, another record. His victory in the final Major of the year meant he became the first man to win the U.S. Open and US PGA Championship in the same year since Tiger Woods achieved the feat in 2000, and only the fifth person to do it in history.

How could 2018 get any better for Brooks Koepka? Easy, by becoming World Number One.

A tied seventh finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was followed by victory at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges on the PGA Tour, which turned out to be a historic week; World Number One status was secured.

After climbing to summit of world golf on October 22, Koepka stayed there for two weeks before a power battle with Justin Rose – a fellow former Challenge Tour player – meant the number one spot moved back and forth for the following three weeks.

However, the American reclaimed top spot on November 25, meaning he will be the one entering 2019 as the world’s highest-ranked player.

So, how do you become the number one player in the world and a multiple Major Champion? Brook’s Koepka’s humble beginnings on the Challenge Tour isn’t a bad place to start.

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