Sports

At the U.S. 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 a great day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here,” the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”

Koepka, carrying a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale inexperienced cap in the second spherical of the U.S. 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 position — inside putting distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the minimize in his final seven U.S. Opens and completed no worse than tied for 18th.

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

“I love this event,” he stated. “This event has always been good to me.”

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

No one else in the 156-man subject has received two U.S. Opens. The final 4 instances 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 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 pretty cool,” Koepka stated, whereas including, “I wish it was less.”

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

But given his lack of match play this year, it was tough to foretell how properly 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 focusing extra on his upcoming wedding.

“I was waiting for that party,” he stated of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.

Afterward, Koepka retreated to his residence in Jupiter, Fla., labored for 4 days along with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any discuss of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.

“I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on,” he stated. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I love it but at the same time, I’ve got other stuff I like to do. The wedding was a big thing. Now it’s 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 collection, the Saudi-financed insurgent golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with huge paydays. The tour will play its second occasion, one in all 5 in the United States, close to Portland, Ore., starting on June 30.

Koepka’s star energy and penchant for downtime make him a great goal for the upstart tour, which to this point 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 been suspended from the Tour, as a result of they joined the LIV Golf collection, 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 may command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have obtained 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 here. I’m here at the U.S. Open,” Brooks Koepka stated when requested about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. I’m tired of all this stuff.”

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 U.S. 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 enjoying 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 residence. But he would have none of it.

An extended birdie putt on the tough third gap had him one beneath par for the day after 9 holes. It may 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 usually the strongest part of my game,” he stated. He promised a fast repair. He drove the ball fantastically and served discover to the remainder of the subject that he deliberate to be round and in competition this weekend.

“I don’t come here hoping for second place,” he stated. “I think if you are a good player, you want to come in here and win. That’s why everybody is teeing it up.

He continued, “Nobody has a goal of just making the cut or anything like that. I mean, I’m pretty confident, but I feel like everybody should be confident in themselves, and if you’re not — people hate confidence. That’s why people aren’t a big fan of me.”

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