Brooks Koepka – remember the name because he’s a star in the making in world golf. The opening few words in a story published in The Scotsman on 24 June 2013 after the American had won the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore. Fast forward four years and that prediction has been well and truly vindicated. Koepka, after all, is the new US Open champion.
A worthy one at that, finishing four shots clear of the field in the event’s 117th staging at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where the 27-year-old Floridian produced a combination of power and precision over four days to become the game’s seventh consecutive first-time major winner.
Did we honestly believe that a major champion was in the making that week at Macdonald Spey Valley? Hell, yes. From start to finish in that event, the talk among players, caddies and even Challenge Tour staff was all about Koepka and you just sensed he was that little bit special. He’d arrived in the Highlands on the back of wins in Italy and Spain, where he’d posted aggregates of 23 and 24-under and triumphed by a combined margin of 17 shots. No wonder he’d set tongues wagging. A course-record nine-under-par 62 in the third round in the shadow of the Cairngorms backed up his big billing, before Koepka went on to claim a three-shot victory. A third title triumph secured instant promotion to the European Tour, achieving that feat earlier in the season than anyone else.
Not since Martin Kaymer underlined his major-winning potential in 2006 with a brace of victories in 2006 had a player announced his arrival on the Challenge Tour in the way Koepka had. Raymond Russell, a former European Tour winner who played with the likes of Greg Norman, was in that field in Aviemore, and he said at the time that Koepka was the best player he had ever clapped eyes on.
“Yeah, I do remember being very impressed,” Russell told The Scotsman as he reflected on Koepka having now landed one of the game’s biggest prizes, jumping to world No 10 in the process. “He was brave is the thing that stuck with me, always wanting to push forward even after a bad shot and take on shots which may not always pay off but when they do he wins or does very well. He also had a real inner self-confidence that what he was doing was right and that has been proven so far. He obviously hits it a long way. That means he can overpower courses, which ties in with being an aggressive player.”
Twenty-fours after his Scottish Challenge success, Koepka also won a qualifier at Sunningdale for that year’s Open Championship at Muirfield. Like Russell, Duncan Stewart, who’d finished as leading Scot at Macdonald Spey Valley behind Koepka, had a feeling that the American was destined to go all the way to the top of the ladder.
“I played behind and in front of him a few times and you could see how far and straight he hit it that it was going to be very tough for him not to be in contention every week on the Challenge Tour,” recalled Stewart, who is now on the European Tour. “His whole game is great and it’s a bit like Rory McIlroy. If his driving is on, he can overpower golf courses by hitting wedges in when the rest of the field are hitting 5 and 6-irons. It’s great to see him landing a major and he certainly did it in style.”
Confident but not cocky is how Koepka came across four years ago. “This is just the beginning,” he told a small group of Scottish golf writers in a tiny portacabin, a far cry from his all-singing, all-dancing winner’s press conference at Erin Hills. “I know that sounds cocky, but I have high expectations of myself.”
Rightly so, as he has shown with his subsequent accomplishments. He won the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour at the of the 2014 season, then made his breakthrough on the PGA Tour in the Phoenix Open at the start of 2015. This latest individual success came after he’d picked up three points out of four in helping the US record a first Ryder Cup victory in eight years at Hazeltine last autumn.
Not totally perhaps because he clearly had talent in the first place, but boy what a good decision he made in turning to Europe when he didn’t have a status back home and was effectively waiting for the PGA Tour Qualifying School to come around in 2013. “Going over to play the Challenge Tour was really cool,” he admitted. “To get to travel the world at 21 or 22 years old, and do what you do for a living, is pretty neat. I love travelling and some of the places we went to were pretty neat. I think going over there helped me grow up a little bit and really figure out that, hey, play golf, get it done, and then you can really take this somewhere. I built a lot of confidence off that.”
He’s not just saying that now, either. In an interview before he’d teed off in that Scottish Challenge, Koepka was confident that he’d embarked on a journey that would stand him in good stead in the long run. “It is nice to get out of your comfort zone,” he said at the time. “I think a lot of Americans are comfortable and they don’t really get out and see the world. In America, everything is almost too easy. The travel is easy, the weather is perfect every week and the guys are a little bit spoiled.
“For me it is not all about golf. You want to be a good person, too, and experiencing all the different cultures has been great. It is making me a more rounded player and everything seems to be paying off and I can’t complain.
“I took a lot of advice from my agent, close people around me and they told me it might be a good route go on and it has worked out.
“I have learned so much, it is incredible coming over here, it has been irreplaceable. It has taught me more than 10 years in the States coming over here in not even a year.”
Brooks Koepka - it certainly was a name to remember!