Golf

Patience pays off for Koepka

American journeyman wins first Major title after tough career start

Brooks Koepka took an unorthodox path to reaching the goal of all professional golfers yesterday morning (Singapore time), but the 27-year-old American said he would not change a thing after claiming his first Major title.

Koepka won the US Open by four shots, closing with a five-under 67 at Erin Hills to triumph with a record-tying 16-under total, reaching the pinnacle of a professional journey that began five years ago on Europe's secondary Challenge Tour.

The long-hitting Florida native travelled far and wide, from Kazakhstan to Kenya and mainland Europe, cramming into bed and breakfast rooms with fellow players, spending some nights sleeping in cars, and learning about life and how to win.

"Going over to play the Challenge Tour was really, really cool... I think it 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. And I built a lot of confidence off that," he said with the gleaming silver US Open trophy by his side.

Three wins in Spain, Italy and Scotland earned him automatic entry to the European Tour, where he won in Turkey in 2014.

A tie for fourth at the US Open that same year helped Koepka earn his US PGA Tour card.

The 27-year-old won the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open but, despite often putting himself in contention, the wins did not continue to flow. From 21 top-10 finishes on the US-based Tour, he had only one victory.

"I'd won once on the (US) PGA Tour, once on the European Tour. And I felt like I put myself in contention so many times," Koepka said. "I felt like I just never fully came together."

Koepka said he found himself trying too hard to win.

"I've been trying to win so badly. I felt like I've underachieved," he said. "I just felt like I should be winning more... I just couldn't stand the fact that I'd won only once."

His friends and support team preached patience and pleaded with him to focus less on obsessing about victories and avoid getting down on himself.

Guided by power-hitting mentor and friend Dustin Johnson, Koepka dedicated himself to working on his fitness.

"I've worked my tail off over the last six months, from grinding every day in the gym, trying to make sure that I was physically ready and strong enough to be able to swing the club the way I wanted to," he said.

This week, he received pep talks from swing coach Claude Harmon III, short-game coach Pete Cowen and world No. 1 Johnson, last year's winner.

"Dustin actually called me last night and told me the same thing, 'Just stay patient. Just keep doing what you're doing, you're going to win the thing. Just don't get ahead of yourself'," said Koepka.

Brian Harman, who had led by one shot at the start of the round, finished second on 12 under after a 72. He tied with Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, who shot the day's best score of 66. 
- WIRE SERVICES

golfUS OPENsports