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Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open win makes for great Father’s Day present

Brooks Koepka had one duty to fulfill before doing the obligatory post-match TV interview to discuss his U.S. Open victory Sunday evening: Call his father Bob back in Atlantis.

“He said, ‘Happy Father’s Day, Dad,’ ” Bob Koepka said. “I told him, ‘You couldn’t have given me a better present. I’m so proud of you, and what you’ve done.’ ”

Many of the best golfers in the world make Palm Beach County their home, but Koepka, 27, who was born in Wellington and attended Cardinal Newman High School, is the first area product to become a men’s major champion, posting a 16-under 272 at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wis.

Koepka did it in style: His total equaled the 16-under carded by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011 for the lowest score ever recorded at a U.S. Open.

Koepka was 11 when his father took him to Warren Bottke, now the Director of Golf at PGA National, and put him in his care.

“I always knew he could win on the PGA Tour,” Bottke said, “but to do what he did today was beyond my imagination. It’s such an elite class; I’m not saying he would never get there, but not this soon. What he just achieved is remarkable.”

It wasn’t long after Bottke hooked up with Koepka that he began playing school golf, for three years starting in sixth grade at Wellington Christian and then four more at Newman, where Greg Sherman was his coach.

“I coached a lot of fine golfers at Newman, several of them with PGA Tour potential,” Sherman said, “and I always said Brooks was at the top of that list.”

Fox commentators remarked more than once Sunday how well Koepka kept his emotions in check throughout his final round, but Sherman remembered a time when that wasn’t the case.

“His temper would come out if things didn’t go well, and he struggled with that through his first two years at Florida State,” Sherman recalled. “But then he really matured to a point where he has that cool attitude now.”

Koepka helped the Newman team reach the state championship in his sophomore and senior years and won the individual title as a junior.

Newman principal Christine Higgins, who taught Koepka in Geometry class, recalled him as a “good student and a great kid.

“He was very shy, but he did sit in the front of the class, so I let him do his thing. I’m so happy for him.”

Fellow PGA Tour pro Daniel Berger, who like Koepka calls Jupiter home, said the progress Koepka has made since turning pro in 2013 made it “just a matter of time” before he reached this pinnacle. Koepka previously had recorded three top-5 finishes in majors, including a fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open, a fifth at the 2015 PGA Championship and a fourth at the 2016 PGA.

While Koepka’s driving distance and accuracy were among the best in the field this past weekend, Berger said it was his putting that made the difference. Koepka sank a 10-footer to save par on No. 13 Sunday, then pulled away from the field by rolling in birdie putts on the next three holes.

“It doesn’t really matter how well you hit it, to win a tournament like that you have to make a bunch of putts, and that’s what he did,” Berger said.

Koepka’s experience in helping the U.S. win the Ryder Cup last fall was mentioned repeatedly on Sunday’s broadcast as the basis for the confidence he carried into this tournament. Bottke accompanied him on that trip and said Koepka was “very, very nervous” as he approached that experience.

“But he came out of that so elated and relieved,” Bottke said. “In my eyes, he was the MVP; he went 3-1 as a rookie, and they leaned on him. That really gave him a boost of confidence, the knowledge that he really is an elite player.”

“I remember him saying that was probably the most nervous he’d ever been,” Bob Koepka added. “He teed up the ball a little too high on the first hole and was afraid to touch it because he didn’t know if he would knock it off the tee.

“Then he ripped it down the middle, hit his first iron to a foot-and-a-half, had it conceded for a birdie, and I said, ‘He’s where he needs to be.’ ”

Bottke said he expected Koepka to become more emotional about what he accomplished as Sunday evening wore on.

“It’s going to sink in,” he said. “He’s never been one to be super high or low emotionally, but he’s going to realize what a life-changing event this is going to be. When you win a major, the sponsors come calling, you get exemptions, you get to pick and choose when and where you want to play.”

Koepka, whose only previous PGA Tour win had come in the 2015 Phoenix Open, will play in next month’s British Open and well as the PGA Championship in August.

“He told me going into this year his emphasis is on the majors now,” Bob Koepka said. “Not that the other events aren’t important, but he wants to win the career Grand Slam.”

That’s a feat only five players in the modern era have accomplished: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

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