Brooks Koepka rested, ready for strong run at Royal Birkdale

Brooks Koepka-British Open David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Brooks Koepka rested, ready for strong run at Royal Birkdale

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Brooks Koepka rested, ready for strong run at Royal Birkdale

SOUTHPORT, England – Brooks Koepka had played nicely for a few days at the WGC-Dell Match Play in late March, but after losing to the hot putting of Alex Noren in the quarterfinals, he was packing up and leaving early at yet another tournament.

Was he a little frustrated? Sure. In seven starts dating to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Koepka had missed three cuts and not finished better than 42nd until that T-9 showing in Austin, which at least was something to build upon.

The first major of 2017 was looming in Augusta, and Koepka, weeks from his 27th birthday, was … well, truthfully, perfectly fine with every bit of the way things had been going.

“I know that everyone likes to freak out over six weeks, whatever it is,” he said in a quiet locker room interview that day, “but I’m going to play for the next 25 years. Six weeks out of however many weeks that is – it’s not really that important, is it?”

And with that, he was off to chill back at home in Florida, something at which he has become quite proficient. As his father, Bob, likes to say, no water runs off Brooks’ back. Koepka, a shrug-the-shoulders, laid-back type of personality, refused to panic when his game was down. And look where he sits now.

He has been chilling out again for an entire month void of competition, but this time also was different. He rested and recharged as the newly crowned U.S. Open champion.

US Open-Erin Hills-Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka put up a 67 Sunday to win at Erin Hills. (Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

After such a sluggish start to the season, Koepka has dialed up his game, returning to the level that earned him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team last autumn. In eight starts beginning at the Masters, Koepka has three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up showing at the Texas Open and that career-changing victory at Erin Hills. In 79 PGA Tour starts before the U.S. Open, Koepka had won exactly once, in Phoenix in 2015. And now he’s a major champion ranked 11th in the world.

“He had a chance to win in San Antonio (Texas Open) and finished second, and he called and said, ‘I’m sick and tired of finishing second,’” said his swing coach, Claude Harmon III. “I said, ‘Dude, just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right track, and you’re going to win before the British Open.’ ”

Koepka has returned this week at Royal Birkdale for the 146th British Open as a player still riding the confidence of that stellar closing day at Erin Hills, where he shot 5-under 67 and won by four.

“I found it pretty easy to get away,” he said. “I was kind of … not looking for a break, but I kind of needed one, more mentally than anything.

“But last week I started getting into it and getting antsy to get back out here. I would say last week, after July 4th, it was kind of like, OK, I just want to get back out here, I want to play, I want to get inside the ropes.”

So Saturday in England, a day after stepping off a plane, he officially clocked back in, playing a few holes at a Royal Birkdale layout that is very much to his liking. The venue gives the long hitter plenty of options off the tee.

“I love links golf. I think it’s the best kind of golf you can play,” said Koepka, who is playing in his fourth Open. “So much imagination that goes into it. You can play ten different shots from the middle of the fairway and I think that’s so cool. You’ve really got to be creative. It’s not just a stock shot like it is in America. You (can’t) just fly it pin-high and hope it stops. Over here you can run it up, you can fly it there, too, if you want. But you can be so creative, and there’s so many different shots.

“The way my mind kind of works, it benefits me.”

Two years ago when the Open visited St. Andrews, Koepka tied for 10th. A year ago, he missed a start at Troon with an injured ankle, having finished T-21 or better in five consecutive majors. It hurt him not to be able to play, and it leaves him even hungrier to compete this week. The European Tour was where Koepka honed his game as a young pro, eventually working his way up from the Challenge Tour after leaving Florida State.

“It was the plan all along to come over here,” said Koepka, the Euro Tour’s rookie of the year in 2014, “and obviously it worked out pretty well. I enjoyed it. I had the best time I’ve ever had being over here, playing the Challenge Tour, doing things like that. We had four guys packed in a taxi, trying to go from place to place, from the airport to the golf course, which is pretty fun.

“The camaraderie over here is pretty unique and special. I love that. I thought it was really cool.”

Taking a month off after winning your first major championship? That’s cool, too. But for Brooks Koepka, the time has arrived to get back to work. He’s rested and ready.

– Brentley Romine contributed to this story

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