Newly-crowned US Open champion Brooks Koepka has revealed he almost quit golf while leading a tournament.
Koepka carded a closing 67 at a windswept Erin Hills to finish 16 under par, matching the tournament scoring record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.
The 27-year-old began the day a shot off the lead but fired six birdies and a solitary bogey to finish four strokes ahead of overnight leader Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood a shot further back in fourth.
US Open champion Brooks Koepka has revealed he almost quit golf four years ago
Koepka has been tipped for the top since winning three tournaments on the Challenge Tour in 2013 to earn instant promotion to the European Tour, but the third win was in serious danger of never happening.
‘I called (agent) Blake Smith the night of the third round (of the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore),’ Koepka said after collecting a record first prize of $2.16million (£1.6million) at Erin Hills.
‘I called him and I was like, I don’t even want to play. I just want to go home. I was kind of, I don’t want to say homesick, it was just tired of golf. Tired of travelling.
‘I just wanted to be home, even though I think I had the lead at that point and was about to win the third one. For some reason I just wanted to get out and go home.
Koepka finished four shots ahead of his nearest rivals at Erin Hills on Sunday
‘I’ve never felt that way. I don’t even know what was going on. I think I had played so many weeks in a row, not a day off, it really got to me.’
Fortunately for Koepka, he decided to play the final round and went on to win by three shots, before attempting to drive through the night to contest final qualifying for the Open Championship.
However, after his car suffered a tyre blowout near Edinburgh, he was forced to change plans, get a few hours sleep in a hotel and catch a 6:30am flight to Heathrow, arriving at Sunningdale shortly before his tee time.
Undeterred, Koepka shot rounds of 69 and 65 to win the qualifier and book his place at Muirfield, where he and Dustin Johnson – the man he would later succeed as US Open champion – played Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in one of the game’s most competitive practice round matches.
Koepka says he almost gave up the sport while leading the Scottish Hydro Challenge in 2013
Mickelson and Fowler won on that occasion, although Koepka was at least able to land a verbal blow by telling Mickelson about how he had once chased him for an autograph at the Masters.
‘He was in a hurry to get to his car,’ recalled Koepka, who was eight years old at the time. ‘He said, ‘Catch me tomorrow.’ I never got the autograph. Reminded him about that a couple of times since.’
Mickelson had the last laugh by going on to lift the Claret Jug after Koepka had missed the cut, but Koepka was on an upward trajectory, finishing fourth in the 2014 US Open and then winning the Turkish Airlines Open on his way to being named European Tour rookie of the year.
In 2015 he won his maiden PGA Tour title in Phoenix and in 2016 claimed the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, but admitted he felt like an underachiever.
The big-hitting American collecting a record first prize of $2.16million (£1.6m) at Erin Hills
‘I’d won once on the PGA Tour, once on the European Tour,’ said Koepka, who climbed from 22nd in the world rankings to a career-high of 10th.
‘I felt like I put myself in contention so many times and I don’t want to say got unlucky, I felt like I just never fully came together.
‘I put myself in some good chances over the majors over the last few years and never really quite came through.
‘I just felt like I should be winning more. I’m not a big fan of losing, I don’t think anyone out here is. And I just couldn’t stand the fact that I’d only won once.’
A one-time winner no longer, Koepka has set his sights even higher, adding: ‘We started out this year and I thought I needed to win multiple times and a major.
‘I thought the way my game sets up I think I can win multiple times a year, I really do. And I think this is hopefully major number one and there’s many more to come.’