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U.S. Open Notebook: Brooks Koepka ready for another tough test

Brooks Koepka hits on the practice range at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., on Tuesday as he prepares for the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday.  (Nancy Lane/Tribune News Service)
By Keith Pearson Boston Herald

BROOKLINE, Mass. – During his news conference Tuesday before the start of the 122nd U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka reiterated that he lives for “tough tests” and hates when he needs to shoot “25 under just to compete.”

The U.S. Open considers itself “golf’s toughest major” and with a number of blind tee shots, thick rough and small, sloping greens, The Country Club will surely be a tough test for the 156 players to solve beginning Thursday.

The last event Koepka played in that was not a major or WGC event was in mid-March at Innisbrook. During that time, the four-time major winner got married earlier this month and has dealt with an injury, forcing him to pull out of the Byron Nelson last month.

The way he favors majors and doesn’t look to play on a weekly basis has led to speculation that he might be open to jumping over to the Saudi-backed LIV. Adding to that is the fact his brother, Chase, made the move and played in the season-opening event last week.

Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills and 2019 at Pebble Beach, said the focus on LIV Golf has led to a “black cloud over the U.S. Open,” but when directly asked how permanent his decision to stay on the PGA Tour was, his answer did not make for a sunny day.

“There’s been no other option to this point,” he responded. “So where else are you going to go?”

When LIV was presented as a response, he delivered his weather forecast.

“As of last week. That’s it. I wasn’t playing last week,” Koepka said. “I’m here. I’m here at the U.S. Open. I’m ready to play U.S. Open, and I think it kind of sucks, too, you are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. It’s one of my favorite events. I don’t know why you guys keep doing that.

“The more legs you give it, the more you keep talking about it.”

But there wasn’t a ringing endorsement for sticking with the PGA Tour, either.

He said that he has not spoken to his brother since the event and watched a little bit to follow his progress.

“I love my brother. I support him in anything he does,” Koepka said of Chase, who finished 17 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel in the three-day event. “It’s family. I’ll always love and support him. Whatever he does, I’m cheering for him.”

Koepka played the front nine on Monday and offered his assessment.

“Rough is pretty tough, and it’s only going to get tougher because I’m sure they won’t cut it,” he said. “Golf course is good. It’s kind of weird; got a couple of blind shots, but other than that, it’s a great golf course, fun golf course to play. So should be a good week.”

Going back in time

Scottie Scheffler is among the group of players who played in the 2013 U.S. Amateur and has returned for the Open nine years later. He was a quarterfinalist, losing to Brady Watt.

Just in case you wondered how much players remember from the big events, the answer is everything.

“I remember I plugged it in the bunker short on 18,” Scheffler said. “I think I ended up making bogey, and he made a nice little 4-footer for par to beat me.”

The World No. 1 and reigning Masters champion is shipping up to Brookline coming off a missed cut last month in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the first time he missed the weekend in a major since the U.S. Open in 2019 at Pebble Beach.

Scheffler did not let the extra time off go to waste, however, as he finished second the following week at the Charles Schwab.