Koepka eyes another solid major finish at PGA

Brooks Koepka hits a shot during the second round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.
Brooks Koepka hits a shot during the second round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. ( Associated Press )

Saturday, August 9, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. –– It’s not often a player arrives to the first tee at a major and sets a target of shooting 7 or 8 under par. But Valhalla Golf Club, host of the 96th PGA Championship, is playing soft and receptive, and Brooks Koepka is a young man who can move the golf ball a long, long ways.

So going low was the mindset he carried during his third round Saturday.

“You could throw darts at the pin,” he said, “and they weren't spinning back, or they weren't going to bounce forward. If you hit a good shot, controlled the spin, you were fine.”

And for most of his day, Koepka was fine indeed. He birdied half of his holes, plenty of ammo to get him to his target. Unfortunately, he mixed in four bogeys, too, some more sloppy than others, including one at the birdie-friendly par-5 closing hole, and wasn’t too pleased to settle for his 5-under 66. He stands at 5-under 208 for the tournament.

“I bogeyed the last hole every day this week,” he said, shaking his head. “It doesn't make dinner, or lunch, taste too good.”

At 24, Koepka often gets overlooked when the conversation turns to good young American players. That’s because after leaving Florida State he’s spent much of his young life as a pro playing in Europe, first on the Challenge Tour and then the European Tour. Europe is his likely landing spot in a few weeks unless he wins at the Wyndham Championship next week. (He needs a victory to upgrade his special temporary membership on the PGA Tour and be eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.)

He keeps gaining experience, though, and keeps stepping up with impressive performances. Koepka tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, earning a spot in next April’s Masters, then played on the weekend at Royal Liverpool. On Sunday, with another low round at Valhalla, he can post yet another solid major finish. Each experience gives him something else to build upon.

At the Open Championship last month, during a Wednesday match alongside Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Harris English, Koepka listened as Scott told him about knocking a ball out of bounds in the final round there in 2006. Scott told him how it hurt his final standing (he dropped to T-8), but that it really didn’t matter. After all, he was only there for one thing: to win.

“It was a different mentality,” Koepka said, “and it was cool to step back and think about that. I kind of brought that in this week, it was the first week I could really apply it. It’s an interesting way to think, and my mindset has changed.

“It’s changed form each stage I’ve gone through, expecting to win. When I first came out here (on the PGA Tour), I don’t want to say it was just, ‘Let’s make the cut, and see how it goes,’ but expectations have changed a little bit. You have to set your goals higher.”

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