News & Opinion

Suri takes road less traveled for big-time golf

In a region where windmills are the stuff of myth, lore and legend dating back several centuries, the blades of several turbines could be seen rotating in the background as Julian Suri walked the back nine Sunday at the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event.

Of course, they weren’t the creaky, wooden windmills from the Don Quixote days. These were gleamingly metallic, state-of-the-art devices that dotted the horizon at Himmerland Golf and Spa Resort in Farso like huge turboprops.

It was a fitting backdrop, because Suri has taken a decidedly space-age route to the top by leaving the United States behind for a shot, if not a shortcut, to glory in Europe.

The former Duke standout matched the best round of the week with a closing 64 to win the Denmark event by four strokes at 19 under, becoming the third American in history to win on the European Tour and its developmental circuit, the Challenge Tour (scores: http://bit.ly/2iB20kP).

Based on the prevailing wind currents, he won’t be the last. Suri and fellow Yanks Peter Uihlein and reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka accomplished the feat in the past five seasons, helping establish the European tours as an increasingly attractive alternative for Americans who, not long ago, rarely left home soil.

As Suri played the final shots over the back nine, a Golf Channel broadcaster asked aloud, “I wonder if Brooks Koepka or Peter Uihlein are watching it?”

Candidly, whether they watched wasn’t important, because other impressionable Americans with indeterminate tour status surely were eyeing it with heightened interest. 

Suri, a highly regarded junior player who won back-to-back Florida state high school titles, played last year and won twice on the Swing Thought Tour, formerly the Hooters. He entered European Q-School last fall in Spain and secured a spot on the Challenge Tour for 2016-17 by finishing T-31. He barely has looked back since.

Nor taken a deep breath, really. 

This year has been a blur. After beginning work with Jacksonville-based coach Dan Carraher in late March – the first time Suri had truly received professional instruction – he has been on a stampede up the world ranking. After a six-week break in Florida to make swing tweaks with Carraher, Suri finished second in the European Tour event in Portugal and won a Challenge Tour event two weeks later in the Czech Republic. The bounty from the latter included a spot in the Euro Tour event in Denmark last weekend, where he secured a two-year card on the parent circuit.

“I feel like my game belongs at the top of the game,” Suri said Sunday. “This is definitely something I’ve worked for and kind of expected for a long time, but to finally come out and do it, especially after the string of good finishes this summer, is really special.”

According to projections, the victory will leave Suri on the cusp of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Only 50 weeks ago, he stood No. 1,520.

Suri, 26, said he was aware of the feats of Koepka and Uihlein, but he also freely embraced the idea of globetrotting. Suri’s dad is a tennis pro who was born in India, so plane rides hardly are unfamiliar. Over the past 12 months, Suri has played in Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. With a two-year exemption in hand on the European Tour, he’ll be adding more passport stamps soon, perhaps during the lucrative Race to Dubai series.

Suri’s thinking on the European route turned out to be spot-on.

“He didn’t think it would necessarily be easier in Europe, but that the time it would take to get from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour would probably be faster than the time it takes to jump from the Web.com to the PGA Tour,” Carraher said.

Koepka’s little brother, Chase, a former top college player at South Florida, also is competing this season on the Challenge Tour, so the viability of that career path has become a solid option for some Americans.

After spending most of the year in the second-tier Challenge Tour events, Suri didn’t seem remotely unprepared for the duress and scrutiny of the bigger circuit.

“I think the buildup is different, just with the crowds, the atmosphere and the media attention,” he said. “But once you get on the course, it’s the same old game I’ve been playing since I was 5. It’s what I love to do, and feeling like this makes all the hard work worth it.”

The best might be yet to come. Suri and Carraher are perhaps 80 percent of the way through the changes that the coach would like to incorporate into what was an admittedly organic, homemade swing. When they started working together, Carraher looked past the quirks and saw an innate toolset that few others possess, including off-the-charts swing speed and touch.

“I told him when we first began working together, ‘You have more of the stuff I can’t teach than anybody I’ve ever seen,’ ” said Carraher, 30.

Based on Suri’s upgraded tour status, Carraher might not see his new pupil again until November, after the season-ending Dubai event. Not that Suri is sweating a few extra weeks on the road.

"I'm traveling around the world playing golf – and playing golf well,” Suri said Saturday. “That helps. It's been a really good time.”

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling