Sunday, 11 August 2013
Brooks Koepka with Tiger Woods at Oak Hill  (Getty Images)
Brooks Koepka with Tiger Woods at Oak Hill (Getty Images)

The unofficial slogan of the European Challenge Tour is ‘Where Heroes Are Made’ but an addendum to that might read ‘Where Dreams Are Realised’, as Brooks Koepka’s remarkable ascent to a US PGA pairing with Tiger Woods bears testament.

Koepka’s debut at the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, which culminated in a final round pairing alongside 14-time Major winner Woods on Sunday, again bore proof as to what can be achieved by the many hopefuls beginning professional life on the Challenge Tour.

The American’s meteoric rise has made headlines worldwide after Koepka – the current Challenge Tour Number One – claimed three victories this year en route to automatic promotion to The European Tour.

The day after his crucial third triumph at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts in late June, the 23 year old won the International Final Qualifying event for The Open Championship and two weeks later he capped his first European Tour appearance as a full Member with a tied 12th finish at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

Koepka’s magnificent season continued when he received an invite to play in the final Major of the season at the US PGA Championship, along with close friend and fellow former Challenge Tour player Peter Uihlein.

That invite came thanks to Koepka’s incredible surge to 113th in the Official World Golf Ranking prior to the US PGA Championship, with the huge majority of his Ranking points coming from his multiple Challenge Tour successes.

Not content with just taking in his experience at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, the affable Floridian proceeded to make the cut and a third round of 71 left him on four over par heading into the final day, resulting in a draw that any young golfer would dream of as he took to the tee alongside World Number One Woods.

“It was fun and I had a good time. Tiger is a good dude,” said Koepka, who signed for a 77 on Sunday in his third Major appearance, after The Open last month, where he missed the cut, and his debut at the 2012 US Open while still an amateur.

“I think everyone my age admired him growing up – he's the reason I'm playing.  It was a bunch of fun to play with him because he’s a nice guy and a hell of a player.

“That first tee is hard but pretty neat at the same time. Just hearing everybody, it was unbelievable the amount of people shouting his name.

“Obviously I didn't play the way I wanted to; I got off to a shaky start with a little bit of adrenaline going but hung in there on the back nine.

“I knew it would be a good experience, but yet at the same time I just wanted to take on the best player in the world.  Who doesn't?” 

After graduating last summer from Florida State University, where he was a three-time All American, Koepka made the decision to move to Europe to begin his professional career on the Challenge Tour and marked his debut with a respectable tied 27th place finish at the Credit Suisse Challenge.

A handful of top ten finishes later, Koepka broke through with a maiden victory at the Challenge de Catalunya last October, a win that helped him gain full exemption for the following season.

Success at the Montechhia Golf Open presented by POLAROID followed in May, before Koepka again displayed his class and vast potential with victory at the Fred Olsen Challenge de España, completed by a record-breaking ten shot margin.

Needing just one further victory in 2013 to seal an automatic ascent to The European Tour, Koepka prevailed amidst cold and damp weather in Scotland, and said the multitude of conditions and cultures experienced on the Challenge Tour had indubitably helped him become a more well-rounded player.

“Starting out on the Challenge Tour was huge for me,” he continued after his incomparable experience with Woods in Rochester. “I enjoy it over there, I really do. I love Europe.

“Playing out here has helped me grow massively as a person as well as a golfer. It makes you better-rounded with all the cultures, the languages, the more varied weather; it’s fun. I enjoy going to all the different countries.”

He added: “I have a lot of friends over there now and this week my phone has just been blowing up.”

With Koepka surely set to develop into the world-class player many have predicted him to become over the coming months and years, Koepka says the Challenge Tour will always retain a special place in his heart.

“I probably wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for the Challenge Tour,” he concluded.

Where Heroes Are Made, Where Dreams Are Realised, Koepka joins the long list of star names – from Martin Kaymer to Henrik Stenson – to have learned their trade on the Challenge Tour, who will always be able to look back, proudly, and say, “Brooks was here.”

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