CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was just five years ago that Brooks Koepka won the Scottish Hydro Challenge to earn a spot on the European Tour.
He has fond memories of that, and even bigger things in mind in Scotland this week.
“Right now, I’m focused on just winning,” the two-time U.S. Open champion said Tuesday. “That’s the only thing I’ve got on my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot and just tired of it.”
Koepka was an aspiring young pro in search of his first big break when he came to Europe in 2012 to play the Challenge Tour. He won three times, including the victory in 2013 that got him on the European Tour.
His life has changed a lot since then, but Koepka remembers the fun he had on his way up.
“I didn’t have any options when I turned pro except to come over here and play,” he said. “I enjoyed it. And I know I’ve said this a million times, it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf. Probably the funnest time of my life coming over here and playing. I enjoyed it way more than I probably do now, playing on the tour.”
Koepka qualified for his first British Open the day after his win in Scotland, but not before having to get out of a taxi to help change a flat tire on the way to play in the qualifier.
After winning a second U.S. Open title last month at Shinnecock, he’s eager to try to win an Open on this side of the pond.
Dustin Johnson has been given one trophy already this week.
The top-ranked player in the world can only hope he gets one more.
Johnson was honored with the Mark H. McCormack Award for being No. 1 in the world more weeks than anyone in 2017. Johnson claimed the top spot in February 2017 and held it the rest of the year. He has been No. 1 this entire year except for four weeks when Justin Thomas replaced him. McCormack was behind the creation of the world ranking, which became official in 1986.
Johnson likes his chances to be on top of the leaderboard this week as well.
“I feel the game is in really good form this week. I’ve had four weeks off, so I’ve had a lot of rest,” Johnson said. “I feel good about the game. I’ve had a lot of practice. I got here Saturday and played the course quite a few times. I think it’s going to be a good test.”
Johnson has won only one major, the 2016 U.S. Open, and is eager to add another to his trophy case after losing a lead in the U.S. Open last month to eventual winner Brooks Koepka.
“I’ve given myself a lot of chances,” he said. “But as we all know, it’s very hard to win in a major. You’ve got to play four really good rounds, and everything in your game has to be working.”
Bryson DeChambeau has always done things his own way, including playing clubs that are all the same length and using a protractor to help him read greens.
But when DeChambeau and his caddie started measuring a hill on the green with some sort of a level during a practice round, Tiger Woods had seen enough.
“It’s downhill,” Woods yelled across the green with a smile as DeChambeau and his caddie spent several minutes taking careful measurements.
DeChambeau’s playing style is unique but so far successful. He is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and finished tied for 25th at the U.S. Open. He is playing in his second British Open, missing the cut last year at Royal Birkdale.
Henrik Stenson wouldn’t be playing at Carnoustie if this were an event on the regular tour.
The 2016 British Open champion said he is “not 100 percent” because of inflammation in his left arm that forced him to withdraw from the Scottish Open last week.
He played 18 holes in his native Sweden on Saturday and didn’t feel great when he woke up the next day, before traveling to Scotland.
Stenson won’t be overdoing practice before teeing off on Thursday in a group containing Tommy Fleetwood and Jimmy Walker.
“It’s fun to be here,” Stenson said, “and we’ll do what we can.”
Johnson can relate
Dustin Johnson has never played a British Open at Carnoustie, though he has been here for the Dunhill Links Championship. He does watch highlights, however, and like everyone else, remembers that image of Jean Van de Velde standing in the Barry Burn on the 18th hole on his way to triple bogey in 1999 that cost him the claret jug.
Johnson has had his own share of blunders – an 82 in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a three-putt par from 12 feet at Chambers Bay to go from a chance to win the 2015 U.S. Open to finishing runner-up to Jordan Spieth, and the infamous grounding of his club in sand that he didn’t realize was a bunker at Whistling Straits that cost him a spot in the playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship.
He was asked if watching the Van de Velde follies made him think he got off easy.
“That was a pretty rough one,” he said. “But so were all of mine. I can feel for him a little bit.
“But yeah, either way you look at it, we both lost.”
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