September 27, 2018 / 5:11 PM / 2 months ago

Golf-Koepka set to play leading role in U.S. challenge

PARIS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson might hog the spotlight in the U.S. Ryder Cup team this week but captain Jim Furyk has arguably his most potent weapon in Brooks Koepka.

Since scoring three points as a rookie two years ago at Hazeltine, the 28-year-old is unmatched when it comes to major victories, three of them arriving in 15 months.

Koepka retained his U.S. Open title in June, surviving a brutal four days at Shinnecock Hills, then followed that up by holding off a resurgent Woods to claim the PGA Championship.

No wonder he is full of confidence ahead of the battle at Le Golf National, where the U.S. are attempting to win the Ryder Cup on European soil for the first time in 25 years.

“I’m excited. I think any time you can play an important role in winning a Ryder Cup, I think that’s what everybody wants,” Florida-based Koepka told reporters.

“You’ve got to be ready for anything this week. You don’t know what’s going to come at you. But I’m excited. I’m excited for the role, a little different role than I’ve had in the last one, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Fuelled with the self-confidence of three major wins, Koepka says he now regards himself as a senior player and is ready to contribute in the team room as well as out on course.

“I think it’s definitely a lot different than it was the first Ryder Cup, being a rookie,” he said.

“Now I know how things go. I’m more comfortable opening up now. The first one, you’re a little bit shy and you don’t want to say anything and kind of get off to the wrong start.

“Now I’m definitely more comfortable with the guys, especially the captains, vice captains, voice my opinion or who I think I should play with or strategy or things like that.”

Koepka’s experience will be needed on Friday when he partners fellow big-hitter Tony Finau in Friday’s opening fourballs, taking on Europe’s Justin Rose and Jon Rahm.

Although he now plays his golf in the United States, Koepka forged his game on the European Challenge Tour and believes that knowledge will serve him well at the weekend.

“I really found my game, really developed into the player, person I am today by coming over here,” he said.

With large and noisy crowds following the practise rounds on Thursday, Koepka is looking forward to a unique atmosphere when the serious business begins on Friday.

“The Ryder Cup truly feels like a sporting event; a football game, a basketball game, whatever it is, it’s loud and people aren’t afraid to boo you. That’s fun,” he said.

“I like the atmosphere and I kind of got a taste of that at Hazeltine. It was the coolest experience, coolest thing I’ve ever done as far as playing golf in an atmosphere like that.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Toby Davis)

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