Brooks Koepka filled passports on worldwide journey to PGA Tour
By Marla Ridenour
DUBLIN, Ohio – The pages of Brooks Koepka's first passport filled so quickly that he had to add about 20 more.
Then the seal wore off, forcing him to order a replacement that's now nearly out of space.
The Florida State product found himself traveling the world at age 22, competing on the Challenge Tour, the European Tour's version of the Web.com Tour, in 2012 and '13.
There were no perks like members of the PGA Tour enjoy. Accommodations were far from luxurious. He might be in Spain one week, Italy or Turkey the next.
"I guarantee that I can pack better than anybody out here," he said in June at the Memorial Tournament.
And there is no rolling of clothes involved.
After three Challenge Tour wins in 2013, Koepka (pronounced KEP-kuh) earned European Tour status. In November 2014, he captured the Turkish Airlines Open, beating Ian Poulter by a stroke and Henrik Stenson by 3.
That triumph qualified Koepka for his first WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which opens Thursday at Firestone Country Club.
But his big victory in Turkey was just the start. On Feb. 1, Koepka won the Waste Management Phoenix Open by a shot, with Bubba Watson among those tied for second. Undaunted despite a dislocated rib that bothered him at the Masters Tournament, Koepka, a 25-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., had risen to 17th in last week's FedExCup standings and 23rd in the World Golf rankings.
"He's played fantastically," Koepka's coach, Claude Harmon III, said at Muirfield Village Golf Club. "When I started working with Brooks I think he was outside the top 200 in the world and now he's inside the top 25 and he's really done that in under two years.
"To go where he's come from, from being on the Challenge Tour, to getting his card in a limited amount of events and all of these things, it's been a great story and he should be very proud of himself."
Koepka found there are more lessons learned from traveling and playing golf than just learning how to pack.
"Learning how to manage your time, go about things the right way, handling yourself off the golf course, it was big – I guess you could say it was a big culture shock going over," Koepka said after his Phoenix victory.
But Koepka didn't need leaving home to toughen him.
"I think I'm one of the most mentally strong people that I have ever met," Koepka said Feb. 1.
Harmon thinks the challenges of traveling changed Koepka.
"I think it's made him a more well-rounded person," Harmon said. "When you get to the PGA Tour and you get free dry cleaning every week and laundry and courtesy cars and 10 different types of range balls, I think it makes him more appreciative. I think it helps you as a person. Sometimes the guys that stay over in the States, things are pretty easy. I think the travel and the journey has been good for him."
Koepka's former Florida State teammate Daniel Berger, a candidate for PGA Tour rookie of the year, saw grit in Koepka even before he departed.
"It's pretty incredible considering how many different countries he played in over the beginning of his career, but Brooks is a tough guy," Berger said last week before the Quicken Loans National. "He was tough on me; he was the captain of the team and I was just a little freshman. I came into school thinking I was really good and I really wasn't that good. He put me in my place a couple times, but it was well-deserved. That made me better in getting to where I am right now."
During his years abroad, he didn't have too much time for sightseeing. Asked the cities he enjoyed most, he said it depended on what you were looking for.
"If you want to go in the mountains, Crans, it's beautiful up there," he said of Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club, home of the Omega European Masters in Lens, Switzerland. "Sweden's pretty cool; any place over there. Actually Kazakhstan ... it's beautiful down in the city."
Harmon saw at Muirfield Village what Koepka is capable of before a final-round 78 left him tied for 52nd. Since then, Koepka has tied for third at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, tied for 18th at the U.S. and Canadian Opens and tied for 10th at the Open Championship.
"He's one of the best drivers of the golf ball," Harmon said of Koepka, who ranked eighth in PGA Tour driving distance (308.2) last week. "He has one specific shape that he hits the golf ball and he has a very unique golf swing that's very repeatable. He can shoot really low numbers.
"There are a lot of people out here who are great players. But Brooks has the ability ... today he makes the turn and wasn't doing anything, then eagles all the par 5s. He can really beat the golf course up with his driver."
Koepka's around-the-world journey would not have been necessary if the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School at TPC Ranch in McKinney, Texas, in November 2012 had turned out differently.
Koepka and Jordan Spieth, a freshman at the University of Texas, finished 3 strokes shy of advancing to the final stage. From there, their journeys diverged. Eight months later, Spieth, then 19, became the youngest tour winner in 82 years at the John Deere Classic. Koepka headed to the Challenge Tour.
"It was a blessing in disguise," Koepka said Feb. 1. "At the time I was extremely disappointed, as I'm sure Jordan Spieth was, too. But that just toughens you up, your drive. It makes you want to get out here that much more."
Koepka has no doubt now where he wants to go.
"I want to be the best player in the world," he said in Phoenix. "I'm not there yet, and I know it's going to take time, but I want to get to that point."
This article was written by Marla Ridenour from The Akron Beacon Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.