Seven years ago after failing to qualify for the PGA Tour, Brooks Koepka travelled from Florida to Europe to embark on a fresh start on the European Challenge Tour.
It was on this new path that the young American would secure four professional wins before graduating to the European Tour at the tender age of 22. Different challenges presented themselves in each city but slowly his confidence, experience and overall game intelligence was beginning to move in the right direction.
At the time, Koepka was the rare young American to play abroad, but now he has now become the poster boy for rising stars beginning their careers in Europe much like stalwarts Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy before them.
Although he has not competed much in Europe Tour events in recent years, the Jupiter resident has gone on to cement his status as the leading light in the current crop of young talents excelling in the game with three major wins.
And ahead of his first return to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship since missing the cut in 2014, Koepka is excited to see familiar faces and play alongside old friends he soldiered with in previous years.
“The camaraderie over here is a bit different. I like it more, personally, than I do in the States. It seems there’s 30 or 40 guys on a flight, basically the whole flight is everybody, players, caddies,” the current world No2 said ahead of Wednesday’s tee-off.
“Everyone hangs out in two or three hotels, you go to dinner, you have a hard time over here running into one player because there’s 30 or 40 of them or caddies or coaches all at the same restaurant and I think that’s kind of fun.
“The attitude over here is a little different. The sense of humour over here is a little better so it’s quite fun.”
Koepka has always thrived on the feeling of being slighted and the sense of not receiving the credit he deserves considering his massive achievements over the last couple of years.
Two of his three major wins came in 2018, and at the US Open in June, the 28-year-old became the first player in 29 years to successfully defend that title.
At the PGA Championship five weeks later, he shot two scintillating 66s to set a PGA scoring record on his way to fending off Tiger Woods by two shots. He also recorded four other top 10s and missed just two cuts in 15 starts. All of this while having sat out three months of the season due to a career-threatening wrist injury.
For all his successes in the game, it hasn’t been enough to capture the attention of the American public who seem to dislike the fact that he stays low key and shows little emotion.
But the resilience he showed in 2018 should certainly make his rise less underappreciated and catapult his stature to new heights.
“I think people kind of blew it out of proportion and made this whole thing of me against the media; me saying I don’t get enough attention. I think it just blew up a little bit more than probably what I intended for it to do,” he said.
“I think my only thing that I was just saying was, if it had been a couple other people, I think it would have been a bit different. Jordan (Spieth) did the same thing, and obviously with Tiger coming back, it’s a little different. And just having a few other people, if they would have done it, I felt like it would have been a little bit different.
“I was mad for, all of five minutes probably when I said that, and it just took on a life of its own. I’m not upset. I’m still trying to do my personal goals. I can tell there’s a difference; I’ll put it that way.”
In October, Koepka started the new 2018-19 season with a fifth career victory at the CJ Cup in South Korea, ending the year as world number one by the smallest of margins over Justin Rose.
But his time at the summit only lasted six weeks. Two weeks ago in Hawaii, he needed to finish in a tie for eighth at the Sentry Tournament of the Champions but rounds of 76-70-73-69 left him in a finish for 24th place. It was still a commendable display for so early in the year, but now Keopka is targeting a return to the top of the world rankings in the UAE capital this weekend.
It’s no doubt going to be a long year but he would love to get back to the summit in style as well as to continuing to achieve other goals he has set for the year ahead both on and off the golf course.
“Obviously this year, No1 was pretty clear and to stay healthy. I think that was a pretty obvious one,” he explained.
“But I wrote a bunch of different goals down. I think I did about half of them last year. I’m just trying to improve on that and make sure I can knock a few more off that list.
“I’ve got to kind of separate (my goals). I set goals on the road and then the golf goals, and then goals at home. I separate them all into different categories and go from there.”