Koepka gets major upgrade in Europe, another major
Brooks Koepka played six straight weeks in six countries, knowing only that he would be flying home to Florida on Tuesday for a break he desperately needed.
He just didn’t realize how much different the road map would be when he gets back to work.
Koepka is another young American who’s taking the European route, and the payoff was measured in more than euros. The 23-year-old from Florida State won a Challenge Tour event in Scotland on Sunday, his third win of the season that gave him an instant promotion to the European Tour.
Still running on fumes, he took an early morning flight Monday from Scotland to London, drove straight to Sunningdale Golf Club and shot rounds of 69-65 for the low score among nine players who qualified for the British Open at Muirfield.
“Scotland was awesome. There was a lot of motivation there to get that third win before I headed back to the States,” Koepka said Monday night. “And then the qualifier, I honestly don’t know how I did it. I was running on two or three hours of sleep. I was thoroughly exhausted. Adrenaline or something took over. But as soon as I got off the golf course, I was done.”
Instead of returning to a Challenge Tour event in Switzerland or Italy, he will play alongside Phil Mickelson and a host of other stars at Castle Stuart for the Scottish Open, his first event as a full European Tour member. Then, he will drive south to Muirfield for his second major championship.
One item on the agenda while he’s home is to sit down with agent Blake Smith at Hambric Sports and figure out a schedule the rest of the year.
“Just getting on the European Tour is big in itself,” Koepka said. “I get to play with some of the best players in the world, and it will be nice to have some feedback with Peter, who’s someone I really enjoy being around.”
That would be Peter Uihlein, his roommate in south Florida, and someone who knows these ropes. Uihlein also started his pro career on the smaller Challenge Tour in Europe, and he won the Madeira Island Open last month to secure his European Tour card.
One of the house rules in Florida is that whoever wins a tournament has to buy a jet ski. Koepka and Uihlein won two weeks apart in May, and Koepka has added two more titles since.
“We’re going to have a whole fleet,” Koepka said.
Koepka and Uihlein have known each other since junior golf. Both failed to make it through Q-school in America and Europe — “Struggled at the wrong time,” Koepka said — and thought the best way to improve was playing a steady diet of tournaments on the Challenge Tour instead of trying to Monday qualify on the Web.com Tour in America or get lucky with a sponsor exemption.
“I think guys get caught up trying to do Monday qualifiers, and there’s a lot of disappointment,” Koepka said. “You can shoot 66 and go home, and you don’t build on the rounds. Anybody can have four good days. I thought my best option was to come over here. I think it will make me a more well-rounded player. ... I don’t think Europe is for everyone. But it’s worked well for me.”
Depending on how the next month goes, they are closing in on the top 100 in the world and would have a shot at the PGA Championship.
Uihlein is at No. 121. Koepka is at No. 122.
“Yeah, I know,” Koepka said with a laugh when asked about the world ranking. “I already heard about it from him on the range.”
THE KING AND STRANNY: Arnold Palmer has 62 wins on the PGA Tour, seven major championships and the 1954 U.S. Amateur. Along with all those trophies, one of his most prized possessions from his career in golf is a Vicuna top coat from Frank Stranahan.
Of course, it’s the story that makes the coat.
It belonged to Frank Stranahan, the amateur great who died Sunday at age 90. Of their many practice rounds, one that stands out was Palmer and Dow Finsterwald against Stranahan and Al Besselink in 1957.
“We played 18 holes and we beat him for a couple hundred bucks,” Palmer said Tuesday. “Frank said, ‘Are you going to give us a chance to get even?’ And I said, ‘Sure, what do you want to play for?’ We were hassling over that and I said, ‘Frank, you have a top coat that I really love. I’ll put up whatever dollars I have and play you for it.’”
And they did. Palmer said Finsterwald shot 29 over nine holes, and the King shot in the neighborhood of 31. They won the match, and Palmer got the coat.
“I still have it,” Palmer said. “I’ve had it redone and remodeled. It’s in my dresser. It’s one of my favorite things in my golfing career — the coat I couldn’t afford.”
SUN CITY: It began in 1981 as an exhibition called the “Million Dollar Challenge” back when $1 million meant something. Now, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa will become part of the European Tour scheduled for the 2013-14 season.
It will be played Dec. 5-8 at the Gary Player Country Club, and the field will increase to 30 players. The winner will get $1.25 million, with last place paying $100,000. It will count toward the money list on the European Tour and Sunshine Tour.
The leading 10 players from the top 30 on the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup will be eligible, along with the winners of the Asian Tour, Japan Golf Tour and Australasian Tour money lists. Players also can qualify through the South African Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship in the weeks before the Nedbank.
NOT YET DROPPING ANCHOR: The PGA of America is holding its annual meeting this week at Sunriver Resort in Oregon, and among the topics was the decision to adopt Rule 14-1b to prohibit anchoring the club during a stroke, a rule aimed at the long putter.
PGA president Ted Bishop has been outspoken against the rule. In this case, however, the PGA wants to see how the PGA Tour will respond. The tour’s next board meeting is Monday at The Greenbrier.
“As we have seen over the past few months, the Rules of Golf can affect recreational golf in addition to play at the elite level,” Bishop said in a statement. “The PGA of America will continue to confer with the PGA Tour on the subject of Rule 14-1b.”
He said the PGA of America will reserve any public comment until after the tour’s policy board meeting.
DIVOTS: Jaime Diaz, the editor-in-chief at Golf World magazine, has been selected as the Memorial Golf Journalism honoree for 2014. ... Ken Duke’s win last week moved him to No. 20 in the FedEx Cup standings. After The Greenbrier Classic, the leading five players from the top 20 in the FedEx Cup are exempt to the British Open. Duke currently is sixth on the list behind Billy Horschel, Boo Weekley, Charles Howell III, Russell Henley and Harris English. ... The Humana Challenge is changing its format to allow top amateurs to play on Sunday. Six top amateurs (top three low gross and low net) will be paired with two professionals and start on the back nine. The amateurs will not be partners with the pros. They will play individual stroke play from forward tees.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last four winners of the Travelers Championships earned their first PGA Tour title, the longest active streak of any tour event.
FINAL WORD: “I know people like to see somebody make history and do all of that, but for players, it’s frustrating to see someone win week after week after week.” — Stacy Lewis on Inbee Park, who has won five times and two majors this year.