PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) Only when he realized where he was going did Brooks Koepka look back at where he had been.
A year ago this week, Koepka was in Scotland to prepare for a Challenge Tour event and his sixth straight week on the road. Now he’s going to the Masters for the first time and earned a return trip to the U.S. Open. He locked up a PGA Tour card.
”It just keeps getting better and better,” he said Tuesday.
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Koepka was coming up the 18th fairway Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2 when he looked at the leaderboard and mentioned to his caddie, Ricky Elliott, that it would be cool to birdie the final hole and tie for fifth. He hit a 52-degree wedge to 6 feet and made birdie – and a late bogey by Henrik Stenson put him in a tie for fourth.
Only when he was in the locker room did he find out the top four and ties from the U.S. Open are invited to Augusta National.
”It was pretty sweet, to say the least,” he said. ”Someone said to me, `How’s it feel to be in the Masters?’And I was like, `Oh, that’s funny.’ It’s awesome, a dream come true. I went there a long time ago and always told my dad that I was going to go back and play but I would never go back and watch. It’s a special place.”
Koepka also sewed up his PGA Tour card by earning 115 FedEx Cup points. That makes him the equivalent of No. 82 in the FedEx Cup and makes him a lock to get his PGA Tour card.
He reached a point of getting unlimited exemptions in April, but exemptions are hard to find this year. Koepka figured he would have at least three more starts to nail down his card, but to achieve it at the U.S. Open was special because his family was at Pinehurst and he could share the big moment.
Not many players have earned their European Tour and PGA Tour cards in less than a year.
Koepka’s win in Scotland last year was his third on the Challenge Tour, giving him a European Tour card.
Next up is a return to Europe. His plan is to play the French Open and Scottish Open and try to get one of three spots available to the top finishers not already exempt. As for next year?
”I’ll keep both cards,” he said, ”and do what the best players in the world do.”
CADDIE SERVICES: After their final rounds were over at the U.S. Open, a number of caddies carried a white slip of paper to a USGA office and came back with as much as $550 cash in their pocket.
Just call them human Shotlink machines.
The USGA offered bonus cash to caddies to kept track of shot selections for their players. It was part of the USGA’s effort to try to get Pinehurst No. 2 just right for the U.S. Women’s Open this week.
”We don’t have a lot of data on women’s golf,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.
The USGA had equipment in place to measure distances throughout the course. Getting the clubs from caddies was crucial because Davis is trying – and he’s already conceded that he won’t be able to get it right – to have the women play the same kind of shot. The key will be the firmness of the greens.
”It’s like Shotlink data, only we’re taking it one step further,” Davis said.
”We had volunteers at every green, even during the practice rounds. They were charting eight things a ball could do when it hit the greens.”
That’s a lot of numbers to crunch. And over four days this week, the USGA will see how close it came to getting No. 2 in comparable shape.
STUDY UP: Michelle Wie picked up a few good books to read before playing the U.S. Women’s Open – the yardage books of U.S. Open runner-up Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley, who tied for fourth, along with the books their caddies kept.
Wie knows both players from living in South Florida.
”Knowledge is key around here, just knowing where to miss it, where not to miss it,” she said. ”It’s such a unique experience to have the information. You normally go up to a golf course site, the information would probably be from like years ago from when they replayed it or something. But this is pretty fresh information and it’s pretty similar conditions to what we’ll play it. So hopefully, I think it’s going to be very useful and I’m very thankful that they gave it to me for me to use.”
END OF A STREAK: Dan Jenkins was at his best again last week at the U.S. Open, having found a new audience in Twitter. Even in 140 characters, he can still fire off some zingers. ”This might be the most lackluster final round of an Open since Jim Furyk beat a gentleman whose name I don’t recall at the moment,” he said, referring to 2003 and a gentleman named Stephen Leaney.
Or when Rickie Fowler made double bogey. ”Rickie Fowler on the fourth hole. Wearing orange. Bleeding red.”
But he made no mention of a streak that even Byron Nelson could admire. Jenkins has covered 222 majors – his first was the 1941 U.S. Open – and the last 179 majors in a row through Pinehurst No. 2.
The streak will end. Jenkins, 84, is not going to the British Open next month at Hoylake at the advice of his doctor.
TAKING THE TIME: In an era of sound bites and one-sentence answers, Martin Kaymer tends to speak in paragraphs. Except for talking about his swing – he has done that ad nauseum for the last two months – the 29-year-old German offers insight and plenty of detail to any question.
There’s a reason for that.
”Otherwise, people write something which is not true,” Kaymer said. ”And I’d rather take a minute longer to explain it properly what I mean than if you make something up.”
Once the laughter subsided, Kaymer added, ”I like to be in control here.”
DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy will be starting the PGA Tour season at the Frys.com Open at Silverado in October. His appearance is related to the trade-off tournament officials received when eight players competed in an exhibition in Turkey two years ago. Hunter Mahan also is likely to play the Frys.com Open. Among those eight players in Turkey? Tiger Woods. … Donald Trump has completed his purchase of Turnberry Golf Resort in Scotland. The name will be changed to ”Trump Turnberry.” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson already has said the name of the course on the claret jug will remain only ”Turnberry” if the British Open returns. … Six-time major champion Nick Faldo is playing his second PGA Tour this year at The Greenbrier Classic. Faldo, who spends most of his time in the broadcast booth, previously missed the cut at Hilton Head. The Greenbrier last year hosted the first ”Faldo Series Grand Final” in the United States.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Martin Kaymer ended one peculiar streak. For the previous five U.S. Open champions – Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Lucas Glover – that was their only official win in America that year. Kaymer already won The Players Championship.
FINAL WORD: ”I did like it, though. Some of them are very pretty.” – U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, on players in the U.S. Women’s Open being allowed to use the practice range in the hours before he teed off in the final round at Pinehurst No. 2.