Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Brooks Koepka  (Getty Images)
Brooks Koepka (Getty Images)

When Brooks Koepka arrived on the European Challenge Tour scene in July of 2012, he was a relative unknown. Less than a year later, he leaves as one of the hottest young prospects in world golf.

Koepka, pronounced ‘Kep-ka’, has in the last seven days proven just how far he has come since taking the rare decision to elope from his native USA and begin his professional career on Europe’s second tier, following close friend Peter Uihlein.

It seemed a perfect match from the very beginning, for Koepka is the kind of young man who would seem just as comfortable travelling around Europe with a backpack as with a set of golf clubs. An explorer at heart, he was wide-eyed at every new country he visited and every new culture discovered, sometimes disappointed that he has not seen as much as he would like (Koepka has very rarely had a weekend free at a Challenge Tour event).

“It was a big change for me, coming over here,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came but I know what to expect now. I’ve learned so much in less than a year, more than I learned in college golf.

“It’s been really good as a golfer and as a person too.”

As a golfer, his rise has been little short of meteoric. With no Walker Cup or Palmer Cup appearances to his name, nor any major Amateur victories, Koepka did not quite grab the kind of headlines Uihlien or Byeong-hun An – both former US Amateur Champions – commanded on their arrival to the Challenge Tour.

Yet, from day one Koepka seemed to exude a sincere yet never arrogant belief that he would go on to much bigger things. His manager insisted from the very start that Koepka was something special. They always say that.

But not until the last seven days did it become apparent just how right he was.

At the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, the 23 year old’s ascent from the pack on Saturday, with a course record-equalling 62, seemed ominous for the remainder of the field in Aviemore.

As various players, both Scottish and international, filed through the press centre at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club, answering questions about the young Floridian, suddenly the large media presence began to grasp what they were dealing with.

There were various second-hand accounts of experienced European Tour and Challenge Tour professionals, one who had once played with Greg Norman, stating that Koepka was the best player they had ever seen in the flesh.

Greig Hutcheon, who was around during the time of Martin Kaymer’s rapid rise through the Challenge Tour, said he has never seen such hype and heard such high praise since the German's brief but glorious stint on the Tour.

When Koepka trudged off the course after a wet Saturday in Scotland, it was clear for those who have dealt with him on a regular basis that he was absolutely exhausted after nine weeks on the road, eager – almost to the point of desperation – to get home for a break.

Yet, when he spoke to the press, there was still an air of inevitability about the whole thing, like all he needed to do was click his fingers and he would clinch the third win which would earn him European Tour promotion.

Sure enough, nine holes into a final round which was delayed for four hours – no doubt affording Koepka some much-needed extra hours in bed – the Floridian was four shots clear of the field and the script was written. A battling performance in the most trying of Scottish weather – the holy trinity of rain, wind and decidedly chilly temperatures – brought the curtain down on his superlative 11 month spell on the Challenge Tour.

“I don’t think there are many Americans who could have done it out there,” he said straight after the victory, in one sentence vindicating his decision to choose Europe ahead of America and proving just why so many believe this young man will go straight to the top.

“I grew up in Florida where as soon as there is a drop of rain you are out of there, so you never play in bad weather,” he said earlier this year.

“I used to be unable to stand playing in rain gear but playing on the Challenge Tour I’ve now gotten used to it. It makes you a more complete player.

“I’ve talked before about playing in The Open Championship, and you need to be able to deal with those conditions. If you ask anyone, they would say they want to be a worldwide player and not just an American name.”
Speaking of The Open Championship, just one day after clinching his promotion to The European Tour in Scotland, and with just two hours sleep, Koepka turned up at Sunningdale for the International Final Qualifying – and duly won, beating some of Europe’s, and indeed the world’s, most experienced players in the process.

Koepka talks openly about competing in Majors with the kind of matter-of-fact confidence that is almost unheard of in the Challenge Tour ranks, for fear of sounding over-ambitious and cocky. Yet it never comes across that way when it comes from the mouth of the affable and honest American.
Less than a year after turning professional, Koepka has four Challenge Tour wins under his belt, a wealth of worldly experience, a European Tour card and now a place in The Open. His scoring average in 19 Challenge Tour appearances since turning pro is 69.55, and he has carded no fewer than 12 sub-67 rounds along the way.
Everything points to the prospect of this man being one of the big names in world golf before long. The Challenger to the throne.

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