Sports

At the US Open, Brooks Koepka Is in His Happy Place, and in Contention

BROOKLINE, Mass. – As Brooks Koepka strode down the first fairway on a moist Friday morning, one fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothes.

“It’s an incredible day to put on white, Brooks. It’s scorching out right here, ”the fan yelled. “Stay cool child however do not be afraid to get scorching.”

Koepka, sporting a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale inexperienced cap in the second spherical of the US Open, heeded the fan’s recommendation, rebounding from a gap spherical 73 to submit a three-under-par 67.

That put him at even par after two rounds and in a well-known place – inside the putting distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the minimize in his final seven US Opens and completed no worse than tied for 18th.

Koepka, who received the US Open in 2017 with a rating of 16 underneath par, and received once more in 2018, speaks virtually paternalistically about the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted in direction of the majors – these are the solely occasions he has performed since late March – and he appears to thrive on the challenges offered by this explicit match.

“I like this occasion,” he stated. “This occasion has at all times been good for me.”

It’s exhausting to argue in any other case. Koepka is the most profitable US Open participant of the final decade.

No one else in the 156-man area has received two US Opens. The final 4 occasions he has performed the match – he missed the Open in 2020 due to knee and hip accidents – he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place end in 2019 and a tie for the fourth in 2021, finishes which have earned Koepka greater than $ 6 million. In these 4 occasions, solely 4 gamers – Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English, have completed forward of Koepka.

“That’s fairly cool,” Koepka stated, whereas including, “I want it was much less.”

He is certainly one of solely seven gamers to win consecutive US Opens; the final to do it earlier than Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.

But given his lack of match play this 12 months, it was troublesome to foretell how nicely the 32-year-old, four-time main champion – he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 – would fare. He missed the minimize at the Masters. And he attributed his underwhelming efficiency at the PGA Championship in May – a tie for fifty fifth – to focus extra on his upcoming marriage ceremony.

“I used to be ready for that social gathering,” he stated of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.

Afterward, Koepka retreated to his dwelling in Jupiter, Fla., Worked for 4 days together with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any speak of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.

“I’ve had quite a lot of different stuff occurring,” he stated. “Sometimes, look, golf is nice and all and I adore it however at the similar time, I’ve obtained different stuff I love to do. The marriage ceremony was an enormous factor. Now it is over with and I can go and play golf. ”

He turned irritated with reporters at his pretournament information convention on Tuesday, chiding them for asking him and different golfers questions on the LIV Golf International sequence, the Saudi-financed insurgent golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with monumental paydays. The tour will play its second occasion, one in 5 in the United States, close to Portland, Ore., Beginning on June 30.

Koepka’s star energy and penchant for downtime make him a super goal for the upstart tour, which up to now has introduced eight, 54-hole occasions with shotgun begins, no minimize and enormous purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who’ve resigned their PGA Tour membership, or have been suspended from the Tour, as a result of they joined the LIV Golf sequence, can nonetheless play the 4 main tournaments that aren’t run by the PGA Tour, though that might change.)

Koepka, ranked nineteenth in the world, additionally might command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have acquired as a lot as $ 200 million and Johnson as a lot as $ 150 million to affix LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, performs on the tour.

“I’m right here. I’m right here at the US Open, ”Brooks Koepka stated when requested about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the US Open. I’m uninterested in all these items. ”

Koepka obtained off to an inauspicious begin in his favourite match. His first-round 73 left him at three over par and in a tie for 79th place when his day started on Friday. It matched the second-worst spherical he has shot over the final seven US Opens. Twice, he opened with a 75. On a kind of events, in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, he rallied to win the match.

In his first time taking part in at the Country Club, Koepka had three birdies and six bogeys, together with three straight on his again 9. The same efficiency in the second spherical would have probably left Koepka packing for dwelling. But he would have none of it.

A protracted birdie putt on the troublesome third gap had him one underneath par for the day after 9 holes. It might have been even higher. He missed makable birdie putts on the first, seventh and eighth holes. After a bogey on No. 10, he responded with birdies on the subsequent two holes, and an eagle on No. 14. He missed a brief putt for par on No. 15 however made par on the closing three holes.

Koepka lamented what he referred to as his poor iron play. “That’s normally the strongest a part of my sport,” he stated. He promised a fast repair. He drove the ball beautifully and served discover to the remainder of the area that he deliberate to be round and in rivalry this weekend.

“I do not come right here hoping for second place,” he stated. “I believe if you’re an excellent participant, you need to come in right here and win. That’s why all people is teeing it up.

He continued, “Nobody has a aim of simply making the minimize or something like that. I imply, I’m fairly assured, however I really feel like all people needs to be assured in themselves, and should you’re not – individuals hate confidence. That’s why individuals aren’t an enormous fan of me. ”

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