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On the U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka Is in His Pleased Place, and in Contention

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Brooks Koepka strode down the primary fairway on a damp Friday morning, one fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothing.

“It’s an important day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here,” the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”

Koepka, wearing a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale green cap within the second round of the U.S. Open, heeded the fan’s advice, rebounding from a gap round 73 to post a three-under-par 67.

That put him at even par after two rounds and in a well-recognized position — inside striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend on the Country Club. Koepka had made the cut in his last seven U.S. Opens and finished no worse than tied for 18th.

Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in 2017 with a rating of 16 under par, and won again in 2018, speaks almost paternalistically in regards to the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted toward the majors — those are the one events he has played since late March — and he seems to thrive on the challenges presented by this particular tournament.

“I really like this event,” he said. “This event has all the time been good to me.”

It’s hard to argue otherwise. Koepka is probably the most successful U.S. Open player of the last decade.

Nobody else within the 156-man field has won two U.S. Opens. The last 4 times he has played the tournament — he missed the Open in 2020 due to knee and hip injuries — he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place finish in 2019 and a tie for fourth in 2021, finishes which have earned Koepka greater than $6 million. In those 4 events, only 4 players — Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English, have finished ahead of Koepka.

“That’s pretty cool,” Koepka said, while adding, “I wish it was less.”

He’s considered one of only seven players to win consecutive U.S. Opens; the last to do it before Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.

But given his lack of tournament play this 12 months, it was difficult to predict how well the 32-year-old, four-time major champion — he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 — would fare. He missed the cut on the Masters. And he attributed his underwhelming performance on the PGA Championship in May — a tie for fifty fifth — to focusing more on his upcoming wedding.

“I used to be waiting for that party,” he said of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.

Afterward, Koepka retreated to his home in Jupiter, Fla., worked for 4 days along with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any talk of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived on the Country Club.

“I’ve had a variety of other stuff happening,” he said. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I adore it but at the identical time, I’ve got other stuff I wish to do. The marriage was an enormous thing. Now it’s over with and I can go and play golf.”

He became irritated with reporters at his pretournament news conference on Tuesday, chiding them for asking him and other golfers questions on the LIV Golf International series, the Saudi-financed rebel golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with enormous paydays. The tour will play its second event, considered one of five in the USA, near Portland, Ore., starting on June 30.

Koepka’s star power and penchant for downtime make him a great goal for the upstart tour, which thus far has announced eight, 54-hole events with shotgun starts, no cut and big purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who’ve resigned their PGA Tour membership, or been suspended from the Tour, because they joined the LIV Golf series, can still play the 4 major tournaments that aren’t run by the PGA Tour, although that might change.)

Koepka, ranked nineteenth on this planet, also could command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have received as much as $200 million and Johnson as much as $150 million to affix LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, plays on the tour.

“I’m here. I’m here on the U.S. Open,” Brooks Koepka said when asked about LIV Golf. “You might be all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. I’m uninterested in all these items.”

A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series

Card 1 of 6

A recent series. The brand new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what’s it? Who’s playing it? What’s all of the hubbub, and how are you going to watch it? Here’s what to know:

What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the very best level of professional golf for nearly a century.

Who’s playing it? The 48 players within the initial LIV Golf event weren’t exactly a who’s who of golf, and plenty of of the largest names in the game, comparable to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there have been big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.

What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.

How can I watch the brand new tour? Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in the USA and will probably be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. In the USA, this week’s tournament will probably be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.

Koepka got off to an inauspicious start in his favorite tournament. His first-round 73 left him at three over par and in a tie for 79th place when his day began on Friday. It matched the second-worst round he has shot during the last seven U.S. Opens. Twice, he opened with a 75. On considered one of those occasions, in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, he rallied to win the tournament.

In his first time playing on the Country Club, Koepka had three birdies and 6 bogeys, including three straight on his back nine. An analogous performance within the second round would have likely left Koepka packing for home. But he would have none of it.

A protracted birdie putt on the difficult third hole had him one under par for the day after nine holes. It might have been even higher. He missed makable birdie putts on the primary, seventh and eighth holes. After a bogey on No. 10, he responded with birdies on the following two holes, and an eagle on No. 14. He missed a brief putt for par on No. 15 but made par on the ultimate three holes.

Koepka lamented what he called his poor iron play. “That’s normally the strongest a part of my game,” he said. He promised a fast fix. He drove the ball superbly and served notice to the remainder of the sphere that he planned to be around and in contention this weekend.

“I don’t come here hoping for second place,” he said. “I feel in case you are a very good player, you desire to are available in here and win. That’s why everybody is teeing it up.

He continued, “No person has a goal of just making the cut or anything like that. I mean, I’m pretty confident, but I feel like everybody needs to be confident in themselves, and in case you’re not — people hate confidence. That’s why people aren’t an enormous fan of me.”

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