ERIN, Wisconsin, June 18 (Reuters) - Brooks Koepka took an unorthodox path to reaching the goal of all professional golfers on Sunday but the 27-year-old Floridian said he would not change a thing after claiming his first major title.
Koepka won the U.S. 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 American traveled 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, to get to travel the world at 22 and do what you do for a living is pretty neat,” he told reporters with the gleaming silver U.S. Open trophy by his side.
“To go over there, 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 of that.”
Three quick 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 U.S. Open that same year helped Koepka earn his U.S. PGA Tour card.
The fast-moving Koepka captured the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open but despite often putting himself in contention, the wins did not continue to flow and from 21 top-10 finishes on the U.S.-based tour, he only had the one victory.
“I’d won once on the 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 only won once.”
His friends and professional 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 fitness.
“I’ve worked my tail off over the last six months, made some changes, 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, master short game coach Pete Cowen and from world number one 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’,” the laconic Koepka added.
“It was a long phone call for us, it was like two minutes.”
It all came together this week for the talented Koepka, who said he practiced patience and it paid off.
As did his globe-trotting apprenticeship as a pro.
“I look at all these places I won. I just won in Japan in November,” he said about the Dunlop Phoenix event.
“And to win on the European Tour in Turkey and (PGA Tour in) Phoenix. You look back at all the wins, even on the Challenge Tour. It’s pretty cool. I’d love to get a map and just look at all the places I’ve won. It’s pretty cool.” (Editing by John O’Brien)