Brooks Koepka, a former Florida State All-American and Florida native, might need to chip in on a bit more rent as a thank you to roommate Peter Uihlein after an 11th-hour golf-counseling session via text messages last Saturday.
Koepka, already a two-time winner on the European Challenge Tour in 2013, was ready to pack it in at the Scottish Hydro Challenge. He was tired of living out of suitcases, not knowing what he was ordering for dinner because of language barriers — he wanted the comforts of West Palm Beach, Fla. for a few days.
Enter Uihlein, a former Oklahoma State star, who had been there, done that — even at the tender age of 23. Uihlein also went the Challenge Tour route after a failed attempt at PGA Tour Q-School. He also experienced the trials and tribulations of going it on his own without a support system there for him every day.
On that Saturday, Uihlein urged Koepka to stick it out, to power through the challenges in front of him.
“I told him I was done with golf, even with as good as I was playing. I needed a break,” said Koepka, 23. “His words were refreshing to hear.”
Whatever Uihlein said led to Koepka’s third Challenge Tour victory and an automatic graduation to the European Tour — where he’ll join Uihlein.
That conversation also took Koepka one step further — giving him the push he needed to qualify for the Open Championship, winning an international qualifier on the Monday following his victory in Scotland to earn a spot at Muirfield in mid-July.
Adrenaline definitely played a part in Koepka’s qualifying triumph, although he also had to battle an overnight drive from Scotland, one that was interrupted by a flat tire — leaving him with about 90 minutes to sleep before the marathon 36 holes at Sunningdale Golf Club.
“It wasn’t fun (getting there),” said Koepka, who also played in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. “(But) teeing it up is always exciting. It’s hard to be tired then.”
Now ranked No. 122 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Koepka will try to use his next two starts — the Scottish Open and Open Championship — to climb inside the top 100 to earn an automatic berth into the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in August.
Ultimately, his goal is to get inside the top 50 so he can pick and choose where he plays in the world — especially back in the U.S. on the PGA Tour. “Everyone wants to compete against the world’s best,” says Koepka.
He feels he has gained a distinct advantage by choosing to play overseas, one that makes him feel confident heading into Muirfield: The ability to play in inclement weather.
“Americans can struggle (with bad weather),” said Koepka. “There is wind and rain and lightning (in the U.S.), and lightning will take you off the course. Over there, there is no lightning, so you are playing through it all. I hated playing in a rain jacket (before), but you get used to it. I am more of a complete player.”
With the success, Koepka has says he is only as good as the expectations he puts on himself.
“I look forward to teeing it up (against the best), there is no nervousness at all,” said Koepka. “I enjoy it. It’s where I want to be right now.”
• • •
‘RESTART’ BUTTON: Perspective is a tough embrace when you’re young and talented. So while Justin Thomas enjoyed his overall experience at last week’s Travelers Championship, four inward bogeys – including three on the last five holes – left a bitter taste.
“I wish I could start the day over,” said Thomas, who led Alabama to the recent NCAA title. “I hit it awful, just horribly.”
Closing with a 73–277 to finish 3 under and joint 30th, Thomas fell short of improving upon amateur Patrick Cantlay’s T-24 two years ago. Thomas, of Goshen, Ky., did take comfort in knowing that Alabama teammate Cory Whitsett won the Northeast Amateur, but when asked whether he was certain that they would be teammates next year, Thomas sounded like a kid who might have Q-School in his future.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Thomas, the 2012 Haskins Award winner, has a spot in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic July 11-14, then will play three marquee amateur events: the Southern, Western and U.S. amateurs. The Walker Cup follows in September.
• • •
THANKS, KID: Gary Christian had good reason to be dejected late Friday, having just dumped a wedge shot from 127 yards into the front bunker at the 18th hole to make bogey. He was level par and staring at a “T-71” next to his name and knew he had missed the cut. So when an official said otherwise, “I though he was having a go with me,” said the personable Englishman.
Turns out the official was correct and the 13 names at level-par 140 had indeed made the cut, though they sat tied for 71st. The reason is connected to amateur Justin Thomas and Christian. PGA Tour regulations define the cut as low 70 professionals and ties, and when Christian bogeyed his 36th hole, it left the cut at 70 exactly, but one of those being Thomas.
“I just never saw the ‘a’ next to his name,” said Christian, laughing. “I love amateurs.”