How Chase Koepka won playing the long game
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How Chase Koepka won playing the long game

Just like his brother Brooks, Chase Koepka is playing the long game - just not from the tee box.

"Yeah, the length's not quite there," he says. "In fact I'm pretty boring really, but boring gets the job done."

No, the real secret to the Koepka family long game is their chosen route to the top of the sport. Back in 2012 26-year-old Brooks chose the unlikely starting point of Europe's Challenge Tour and brother Chase, 4 years his junior, has followed suit.

Brooks had a half-season in 2012 before securing his European Tour card with Battlefield Promotion in 2013. Last year, Chase also spent a few weeks on the secondary circuit at the first time of asking and this year his consistency (five top-five finishes) has guaranteed his place in the top 15 of the Tour rankings at the conclusion of this week's NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at Al Mouj Golf in Oman.

In one sense the fact the younger sibling wanted to travel round Europe just like his big brother is no sort of story. Backpackers do it all the time. The difference was that the Koepkas had golf clubs in their hands not Lonely Planets.

But Chase was never in much doubt that he'd take the Road to Oman.

"There was an opportunity for me to play over here last year," he explained after his third-round 71 at Al Mouj, which left him T-32nd. "The alternative was chasing Monday qualifying on the or PGA, and I kind of liked the sound of the challenge.

"The thing is, there's not too many golfers who step out right away at PGA level. Even Jordan Spieth was playing on invites. If that bunker shot at the John Deere doesn't go in, he's not a PGA Tour member. In one shot he becomes a member and everything changes. People see guys who apparently make it easy, but it's just not the case for most people.

"I chose this way like my brother and, yeah, it's a process. It might be a harder route, but having a place to play is a big deal and I've made the most of it."

It helps that he has witnessed up-close and first-hand how golf's version of a round-the-world budget-hostel trip has aided his brother's rise to the top of the sport, culminating. of course, with victory in June's U.S. Open.

"I really feel that playing this Tour is why he plays well in major championships. He had the lowest score through all four majors this year. More than that, he's always played well in them and I see that as a tribute to the Challenge Tour."

While it's often said that the conditions are responsible, what might be more relevant is that withstanding less-than-perfection every week produces hardened golfers.

"I believe so," Koepka said. "The Tour do the best job they can getting the courses in the best shape they can, but weather and where they are in the world also dictates that. Some weeks the greens aren't great, some weeks the wind is absolutely crazy, some weeks it's really windy or rainy.

"What happens is that you become accepting of it rather than fazed or irritated by it. You figure a way to score and that matters in the long term. I'm doing that a lot better this year than I did last season. I've kind of accepted the challenge a bit more. Definitely learned the lesson."

Being thrust out of his social comfort zone is a further education.

"Going places where no-one speaks English can be tough. You have no idea if you're going to the right place and a lot of airports are tough. In China, no one spoke English. Kazakhstan could be hard to communicate.

"There's been a number of times I've struggled to order food. We point a lot. You see chicken and rice. You order chicken and rice. Then you just really hope chicken and rice is what you get."

Brooks famously experienced a taxi ride from hell in Nairobi, but Chase has avoided such drama.

"I've jumped in a few taxis and not known what was going on, but nothing like that," he said. "In fact, I remember he left a voice message on my mum's phone that time, saying if you don't hear from me in a couple of hours you need to speak to somebody because I'm probably kidnapped!

"That was real scary to wake up to. Luckily we had a few more texts saying he'd made it in, but apparently the taxi had them for about three hours and it was only supposed to be 15 minutes. I can't imagine that. Worst I've had is missing a few flights."

In June, he almost missed another plane ride as he hung around to watch Brooks complete victory at Erin Hills.

"It was pretty cool, Chase said. "I was at home having taken the week off and as soon as he was done, I had 15 minutes to pack then hop on a flight to Fort Lauderdale and make my way to Denmark."

He finished tied fifth that week. Another lesson learned. Another step towards the top of the sport.

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Matt Cooper