They say you never forget your first love and Royal St George’s will always hold a special place in Brooks Koepka’s heart.
Koepka heads to The 149th Open as a four-time major winner and one of the favourites to lift the Claret Jug, which is a far cry from his last visit to the Sandwich course in 2003.
Back then, a 13-year-old Koepka headed to the UK to get a taste of links golf and watch the final round of The 132nd Open, where rank outsider Ben Curtis overcame Thomas Bjorn to surprisingly become Champion Golfer of the Year.
The whole trip sparked a lifelong love affair with the links for a young Koepka, who has since described the years he spent playing on the Challenge Tour in Europe as the favourite of his professional career.
That makes this year’s Open extra special for the 31-year-old and he’s hoping not to fall asleep at the crucial moment this time around.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming over here [to the UK],” explained Koepka during his news conference on Tuesday.
“I came over here as a little kid, actually here at Royal St George’s to watch Ben [Curtis] win – me, my mum and my brother.
“We got the opportunity to come over and play St Andrews, Carnoustie and watch the final round of The Open. I got to play links golf – it was so much fun. That’s when I fell in love with it.
“I remember, Tiger was playing on 13, my brother said something to him and Tiger said something back – it was the coolest thing at the time.
“Then I remember with three holes left, Thomas [Bjorn] took a few out of the bunker and Ben was a few groups behind.
“I ended up falling asleep right in the little pavilion to the right of 18 and didn't even see the finish! I remember getting yelled at by my mom, ‘I didn't bring you over here to fall asleep’ kind of deal.
“But it was fun. We enjoyed the whole trip, it was a cool family trip.”
KOEPKA'S SECRET WEAPON
In addition to his love of the links, Koepka has another advantage when it comes to The Open – his caddy Ricky Elliott.
The Northern Irishman, originally from Portrush, offers vital insights as the American plots his way round The Open every year and Koepka is keen to stress the importance of the role played by his bagman.
“Rick is a help anywhere I go. I love that guy to death,” explained Koepka. “I don't think I would have the success I've had without him.
“He's a crucial part of the way I game plan. He really understands how I play golf, how I go about things, and he keeps it light out there.
“We have a good relationship off the course, good relationship on it. Keep things light. He knows I'm not going to take it too seriously. He's been a big part of those major wins every win I've had.
“Even coming over to links – he's grown up on it, so I don't want to say I lean on him all the time but he's definitely got a better understanding of how to play links golf than I do, so it's definitely been helpful to have him on the bag.”