Chase Koepka is looking to go where no Koepka has gone before by winning the Hainan Open and topping the European Challenge Tour Rankings.
The American secured his European Tour card for 2017 with a second-place finish in his last start at the Kazakhstan Open, where Koepka narrowly lost out in a three-hole play-off against Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen, and is now fourth on the Road to Oman.
That runner-up finish was the second of the season for Koepka, who has been in the top five on five occasions this term – and has missed just three cuts in 14 starts on the Challenge Tour.
Koepka is still hungry and wants a first professional victory. With 34,000 points separating him from Road to Oman leader Pulkkanen, the 23 year old knows a win in one of the lucrative end-of-season events can make him the 2017 Challenge Tour Number One – which would be a new achievement for the Koepka family.
“My goal is to win the Rankings so I need to knuckle down and catch Tapio,” said Koepka, whose brother Brooks graduated on to the European Tour after winning three times on the Challenge Tour in 2013.
“The year Brooks played he quit after nine events and still finished third in the Rankings, so it would be great to finish first at the end of the year.
“I have had to change my goals every couple of months as it has been a really good year for me. At the start of the year I didn’t really have a good category and I was just getting in on a few invites.
“My aim was just to make it to Kazakhstan and then it changed to getting in to the top 15 and then to winning.
“It was great going home after Kazakhstan and having two weeks with my family – we all went to the President’s Cup to go and see my brother play. I got to spend quite a few days with them and they are all really excited for next year.
“I put in a lot of hours on the range as well though as I am really focused on trying to win the Road to Oman as that can open so many doors for you.”
Koepka, who is five months into his second season on Europe’s top developmental tour, will make his first appearance on south east Asian soil when it tees it up in Sanya on Hainan Island tomorrow.
Although Koepka has never competed at Sanya Luhuitou Golf Club before, the Florida native believes he is well-placed to deal with the tropical conditions facing the competitors this week.
“It is my first time in China and I really like it here,” he said. “Although the culture is very different to where I’m from I am used to the heat and humidity after growing up in Florida.
“It reminds me a lot of Hawaii here – I really didn’t think it was China when we were flying in. The hospitality has been great and everyone has been really accommodating so it should be a great week.”
Joining Koepka on the Chinese island are 13 of the current top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings, including France’s Victor Perez – the most recent winner on the Challenge Tour after his Challenge de España triumph two weeks ago.
Leading the charge from the home favourites is Zhang Hui-lin. The 28 year old won the 2015 Hainan Open when it was a China Tour tournament, and after last year’s tournament was reduced to 36 holes following heavy rain he believes he has “unfinished business” at the event.
“Last year was a very rare occasion in my career,” he said. “It was my first two-round tournament and it was a very weird situation – I believe it was an unfinished job as a defending champion.
“A win this week would definitely open many doors for me – I won’t miss such a great chance.”