News & Opinion

U.S. brothers follow golf’s road less traveled

They communicate these days mostly electronically. Then again, given their tech-savvy ages and the fact they’re separated by an ocean and several time zones, that’s not surprising.

When Chase Koepka arrived at the Challenge Tour tournament last week in Scotland, he was reminded of his familial footprints on Europe’s biggest developmental tour.

Four years ago, big brother Brooks won the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge, amassing his third victory of the 2013 season and earning an automatic promotion to the parent European Tour. He closed with a record 62 and hasn’t turned back, winning in Europe, the States and claiming the recent U.S. Open to ascend to No. 10 in the world.

Recalling a recent text message sent to his older brother, Chase, 23, said: “I feel like everywhere I go, you have a course record.”

Like his brother, Chase was a standout college player in their native Florida, winning a school-record four times at South Florida, from which he graduated with a marketing degree in 2016. Brooks was a top collegian at Florida State.

When Chase turned pro and the Challenge Tour became a possibility to earn some professional stripes, Brooks wholeheartedly supported the notion of thinking outside the traditional tee box. With no U.S. tour status, Brooks won four Challenge Tour events in 2012-13, and over the first three years of his career played in 21 nations on six tours.

Conquer the world, conquer the sport? For an American, Brooks took a road rarely traveled and learned to play under all conceivable conditions.

“He has been such a big mentor for me, especially pushing me to come and play in Europe, and to see him keep on doing well and to be top 10 in the world is quite special,” Chase said. “He pushes me quite a bit, but I’m OK with that. 

“I know he wants the best for me. He thought the best option for me was to come over and play.”

Brother seems to know best. Chase has finished in the top five in two of his last four Challenge starts and seems to be finding his footing after one full year of playing, primarily overseas.

A comparative mortal at 5 feet, 9 inches, compared with Brooks, Chase is definitely more of a finesse player than his muscular brother, who nuked a 3-wood shot 379 yards on the 72nd hole at Erin Hills. It was no surprise that their fire-and-ice approach earned them a T-5 finish at the PGA Tour’s new team event in New Orleans in the spring. If Brooks’ powerful game is more akin to the style of former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, then Chase plays more like Jordan Spieth.

Brooks, 27, didn’t so much blaze a trail to the game’s upper tier as much as he napalmed one. It’s likely going to be difficult to approach his big brother’s levels of pro success, but Chase thinks that his tool set, while different, is solid enough.

“I do feel like I can follow Brooks to the top of the game,” he said. “I think my game is quite strong, my short game in particular and how accurate I am off the tee. So, I just need to keep playing well and shooting low numbers.

“This year, I’m playing a lot better than last year, and I feel that there has been of bit of an adjustment period for me.”

If not some culture shock. Not many Yanks have gone abroad to play, though the Challenge Tour’s Order of Merit leader is a fellow Floridian, Julian Suri, a former Duke standout, who recently qualified for the British Open. 

After a T-52 finish in Scotland, Chase Koepka stands 34th on the tour’s points list entering the Prague (Czech Republic) Golf Challenge that begins today. At season’s end, the top 15 earn cards on the European Tour.

“I played at a lot of different golf courses, and I felt as though it took me a while to get used to everything, but this year I feel like my game is good enough to compete out here,” Chase said. “At the beginning, I wasn’t playing as well as I liked, and I was a bit hard on myself. But I felt as though the courses over here suited me, so that’s why I stuck with it.”

That determination could him take another step in his brother’s big footprints in golf.

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