No major hangover for Brooks Koepka in Round 1 of British Open

Brooks Koepka grabs share of lead in Round 1 of British Open Ian Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports

No major hangover for Brooks Koepka in Round 1 of British Open

PGA Tour

No major hangover for Brooks Koepka in Round 1 of British Open

SOUTHPORT, England – Brooks Koepka, concerned with the potential for competitive rust after not having played a Tour event for an entire month? That’s funny. Why, Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman has spent more time worrying.

Koepka teed it up officially for the first time as U.S. Open champion Thursday at the 146th British Open, and had he had been wired to an EKG on the golf course, it would have registered as Ho and Hum. A hole-out for eagle at the par-5 17th lifted him to an opening round of 5-under 65, and he’s right back in the mix at yet another major.

The way Koepka sees it, he’s been swinging a golf club for a good part of his 27 years; he doesn’t forget how to do it when he’s away for a few weeks. The key for Koepka is being sharp with his thinking, and being fresh and ready to play.

“It’s more mental with me,” Koepka said, “just being mentally recharged and being relaxed.”

And recharged he is. He barely touched a club in his month-long chill following his victory on June 18 at Erin Hills. He and his manager, Blake Smith of Hambric Sports, teed it up at The Medalist near his home in Jupiter, Fla., nearly two weeks ago (“He beat me,” said Koepka, who did give some shots). As his golf goes, that was about it.  Koepka was much more enthused with a trip with buddies he took to Las Vegas. Any break away from golf, he says, is something that usually plays to his benefit.

“It’s just a mental thing, I don’t think it’s anything else,” he said. “If I start playing four or five weeks in a row, everything just seems to get nonchalant, I guess you could say. You get to be in the routine and get used to it … it just doesn’t ever seem like I’m fully ready to play. If you take some time off and kind of recharge mentally, physically … I feel like I’m in really good shape right now.

“You get excited to play golf. And anytime you’re excited, you’re extremely focused when you’re out here. It’s a major championship. If you can’t get up for that, you might as well go home.”

Koepka started slowly. He didn’t collect his first birdie until the eighth hole. Then he got rolling. Three straight birdies starting at the par-4 11th, and his eagle at 17 offset a 5-foot putt for par missed at the previous hole.

Koepka drew a poor lie in a greenside bunker at the 567-yard par-5 17th, his ball sitting in a rake mark. His caddie, Ricky Elliott, told his player that he’d do well to get the shot within 10 feet. Koepka answered by holing the shot to move to 5 under.

Koepka started his professional tract in Europe following his college days at Florida State, and worked his way up from the Challenge Tour (he won four events) onto the European Tour. He truly loves links golf. He figures he hasn’t played it in two years, and he’s glad to be back. He enjoys the creativity and shot options, and finds the biggest challenge simply to be settling on just which shot he wants to hit.

Koepka continues to prove himself as a big-game player, with four top-5 finishes in his last 13 major starts. It was at the 2014 U.S. Open that he secured his PGA Tour card, and at Erin Hills last month, he finally broke through.

That said, Koepka said there was little tangible emotion that he felt in playing his first round as a major champion.

“It was still the same me,” he said. “I’m not going to change. I haven’t changed. You’ve just got to hit a golf ball, that’s all you have to do. There’s no added pressure. It’s not like it’s a sense of relief.

“I’ve still got goals that I want to obtain and I haven’t done those yet. So when I do, I’ll maybe look back at the end of my career and be extremely satisfied or disappointed. But as of right now, I still have got a few more to win.”

An opening 65 at Birkdale fits nicely with that plan.

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