Is Brooks Koepka America's best young golfer?
With four wins and playing in 11 nations in under a year, American could be set for the big time
Jim Litke in Gullane
There's a reason why Brooks Koepka is the best young American golfer you've never heard of.
It has less to do with his game than his passport. The Florida native has collected four wins, but also 48 pages of government stamps and almost as many adventures in the last 10 months while playing in 11 different countries. His 2013 season-opening itinerary included India, South Africa and Kenya. And don't ask about the horsemeat dinner in Kazakhstan. Or cobbling together connecting flights between Tenerife and Prague.
"The road's not for everyone," Koepka laughed. "You have to get used to being away, and being alone. It can be tough. Pretty much all you have is golf. But getting to see the world at 23, that's pretty cool."
The extended road trip became part of a master plan Koepka hatched after missing the cut at last year's US Open, then turning pro and failing to get through qualifying school for the PGA Tour. Like his friend and sometimes roommate Peter Uihlein, he pounced on the opportunity for four guaranteed starts on the Challenge Tour, the European Tour's minor-league circuit. He and Uihlein have a running bet - whoever wins a tournament has to buy a jet ski for the house they share in Florida.
Koepka earned his European Tour card after winning three Challenge events this year, and the mad dash that was necessary for Koepka to make it into the Open pretty much encapsulates his brief pro career.
After capturing the Scottish Hydro Challenge near Inverness in late June, Koepka decided to try qualifying in London. The original plan was to drive all the way, but the car blew a tyre late at night near Edinburgh. Koepka caught a few hours sleep in a hotel, then a 6.30am flight to Heathrow Airport, arriving at Sunningdale Golf Club with just enough time to stretch. Even so, he shot 69-65 to book his place in the field here.
"The kid is impressive in lots of ways," said teaching pro Butch Harmon, whose son, Claude, works with Koepka when he's back home in Florida.
"He's consistent. He's a fast learner, but he's smart enough not to try to do things on the golf course that he doesn't know how to do. Claude's been raving about his ball-striking for months.
"More impressive is the route he's taking. Lots of guys come out of college and if they don't get through Q-school, they take the most familiar path - the mini-tours back home. Over here," Harmon continued, "nearly every tournament is in a different country, with a different language. Just lining up visas can be a challenge. It shows a lot of maturity in a very short time."
Koepka and Dustin Johnson played Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in what's generally acknowledged as the tour's most competitive - and expensive - pre-tournament practice round on Tuesday. "When they told Brooks the number [the ante for the match], he didn't flinch," said Harmon.
Whatever the number, it's in Mickelson's pocket now. "The chance to pick these guys' brains on how to get around courses like this is going to make me a better player down the road. So it was worth it," Koepka said. "Almost."
On a family trip to the Masters some 15 years ago, the then eight-year-old chased Mickelson out to the parking lot hoping to get an autograph, but in vain.
"We laughed about that today," Mickelson said sheepishly, then ticked off a handful of Koepka's shots from the round that stood out.
"His ball-striking is extremely solid," Mickelson said. "He's a wonderful putter."
Yet Koepka's ambitions hardly end there. He hopes to play regularly on both major tours.
"That's a long way off, but it's been an interesting ride so far," Koepka said.
"I've seen more crazy weather in a few months than I'd seen before in my entire life. But if you're looking for a little bit of flavour to go with your game, [Muirfield] is awfully tough to beat."