SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Brooks Koepka has lost track of the miles flown, the oceans crossed and the stamps in his passport as he toiled in remote corners of the golfing world for more than two years to prepare himself for moments like Sunday at the Phoenix Open.
The most significant journey turned out to be the 50 feet his golf ball traveled from the fringe, up a ridge and right into the cup.
That eagle on the par-5 15th hole gave Koepka a share of the lead, and he left the mistakes to everyone else the rest of the way. He closed with a 5-under 66 for a one-shot victory and his first PGA Tour title.
“I left every long putt short today,” Koepka said. “I said to my caddie, `I’m finally going to get this one there.” Hideki Matsuyama, among five players who had a share of the lead over the wild final hour at the TPC Scottsdale, was the last player in Koepka’s way. The 22-year-old from Japan had an 18-foot putt to force a playoff, but it never had a chance and he closed with a 67. A week that began with hype over Tiger Woods, who shot 82 and missed the cut by 12 shots, ended with yet another example of a massive generation shift.
The 24-year-old Koepka didn’t get the recognition of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, or former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, his roommate in Florida with whom he often traveled in Europe. His raw power got the attention of his peers, however, and Koepka went through enough trials to mature into a rising star.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Koepka, who finished at 15-under 269. “I didn’t think I would work my way up this quickly, but playing the Challenge and European tours led to this. And especially the failure I’ve had. I can’t tell you how much I learned from that.”