Introducing Chase - 'The Other Koepka'

Chase Koepka1

As four-time major champion Brooks Koepka continues to lay waste to the toughest courses, tests and fields in the game, his younger brother, Chase, is quietly going about his business.

After a difficult rookie season on the European Tour last year, the 25-year-old - almost four years Brooks' junior - is back on the Challenge Tour this season.

Today, as Brooks goes in search of his fifth major win in his last nine starts and attempts to become the first man since 1905 to win the US Open three years on the bounce, Chase was 5,500 miles away playing on the Challenge Tour. 

He finished T35 in the Hauts de France-Pas de Calais Golf Open, banking €1,273- his first cheque of the year and a mere fraction of the $2.25m Brooks stands to earn if he wins the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Our man Michael McEwan spent some time with Chase last summer to find out what it's like to be 'The Other Koepka'. What follows is that piece in full (first featured in issue 165 of bunkered)

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Chase Koepka Profile

It's reasonable to assume that most interviews with Chase Koepka start with an apology.

This one is no different. 

“I’m sorry to have to mention your brother, but - “.

Chase smiles and gives a barely discernible shrug of his shoulders. It’s all that’s needed to confirm the suspicion. He’s danced this dance before. But give him credit. Fred Astaire couldn’t do it with more grace.

“That’s alright,” he says. “I get it.”

At 24, Chase is, by four years, the younger brother of back-to-back US Open champion Brooks Koepka. He has a noticeably different physique to his sibling. He’s a good few inches shorter and not as barrel-chested. However, the family resemblance is there, both across the eyes and in their shared talent for golf.

Chase turned professional in the summer of 2006, after graduating from the University of South Florida.

By then, Brooks was already four years into his own career, having taken a circuitous route to the top. You’re probably familiar with it by now. If not, the short version is that, rather than climb through the tours in the US, he packed his bags and headed to Europe to ply his trade on the Challenge Tour.

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It was a move that raised eyebrows. Americans tend not to leave the USA in search of fame and fortune. However, it paid off handsomely. Four wins later, Brooks was on the European Tour. Within 12 months, he’d earned his PGA Tour card from just a handful of starts on golf’s most lucrative circuit. Today? He’s a three-time PGA Tour winner, a three-time European Tour winner, a Ryder Cup winner, a Presidents Cup winner and, most important of all, a two-time major winner courtesy of successive US Open victories at Erin Hills in 2017 and Shinnecock Hills this year.

He took the path less travelled and reaped the benefits.

Little wonder Chase is following the same trail - even if doing so has given rise to comparisons, questions and apologetic interview openers.

Chase Koepka With Brooks Koepka

“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” he says, considering the challenges posed by being his brother’s brother. “He’s helped me so much in terms of developing into the player that I’ve become. He constantly pushes me and he’s set a very high bar. I’m trying to match it a little bit at a time.

“But yeah, the expectations are high. He’s done so well so quickly, which is something that not a lot of people have done historically. He’s been top ten in the world for over a year now and so you do get some people who say, ‘Why aren’t you up there, too?’”

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Living up to other people’s expectations is the price to pay for having a famous, successful relative. That’s something Chase is acutely aware of.

“People seem to think I should be doing stuff quickly because that’s how Brooks did it,” he says. “But you’ve got to remember it took Brooks time to win out here. He got going and hasn’t stopped but it wasn’t like it was instant success. I’m just trying to stay patient and focus on what I need to do.

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“Truthfully, I feel like I’m doing just fine. My game has progressed year after year. Within 18 months of turning pro, I’d got onto the European Tour. I mean, that’s pretty awesome. I’ve just got to not get caught up in what other people who don’t really know me think about me and, instead, concentrate on doing what I want to do and progressing the way I feel I should be progressing.”

Chase Koepka Putting

Despite following the example set by his brother, you could have forgiven Chase for being a little apprehensive at the prospect of moving to Europe in pursuit of his dreams. After all, he had only ever been outside of the US once before.

He was nine-years-old and it was a family holiday to the UK. “My mum, my brother and I played some courses in the UK,” he recalls. “It was a lot of fun.” They also attended the 2003 Open at Royal St George’s. “It was a very cool experience to be out there. I went to the Masters in ’01, which was great but to go to the Open, to see how links golf is played, it was awesome.”

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After a slow start, Chase finally found his feet on the Challenge Tour around the middle of last year, buoyed by the confidence of finishing fifth alongside his brother in the Zurich Classic team event on the PGA Tour. “Zurich showed me how good I really am,” he says. “I felt like I played good without playing special and it was the same for Brooks – but that was still good enough to finish fifth in a PGA Tour event. That was cool.”

He returned to Europe with renewed vigour, ultimately finishing ninth on the Challenge Tour rankings to graduate to the full European Tour.

Europe’s second tier circuit, he says, was an excellent proving ground for him just as it was for his brother.

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“I don’t think people realise just how high the standard is on the Challenge Tour,” he adds. “There are plenty of guys out there who could compete quite easily on the European Tour. There are definitely some guys [in the USA] who don’t want to do that traditional route that most other American players have done, which is going down to Latin America or going up to Canada and playing there.

"The Challenge Tour opens up more doors in that there are more world ranking points, the prize funds are a little bit better and there are more events. That, in particular, makes it more appealing. I think Canada only has something like 12 or 13 events. With the Challenge Tour, you know you’ve got 25 out of 30 weeks in a row where you know you can be playing golf, which is great.

“It gets you prepared for the ‘big time’ tours in a way that the other tours don’t.”

That’s not to say that it’s not without its own unique challenges.

“I’ve had things put in front of me in restaurants and I’ve been like, ‘What is this? What’s going on?’”

Chase Koepka 2

One of the cornerstones of Brooks’ success has been his power. He is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, averaging over 310 yards off the tee last season. Chase must be the same, right? Wrong.

“My game is the complete opposite to Brooks,” he laughs. “There are really no similarities, other than the fact we’re both good putters and good around the greens.”

Chase describes his own game as ‘boring’.

“I’m more hit-in-the-fairway, find-the-green,” he says. “It’s not necessarily fun to watch. People tend not to follow the guy who hits it 275. But that’s okay. I’m happy with the way I play. I tend not to make a lot of mistakes or put myself in too many stressful situations.”

If you think he spends time asking Brooks for advice on how to hit the ball further, you’d be wrong again. “People always talk about how far he hits it but he’s one of the best putters around, too,” he says. “When we’re at home and practising, that’s what I’m picking his brains about. You know, reading greens and things like that.”

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Chase also spends a lot of time in the gym back home in Florida, where he regularly sees his brother, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas being put through their paces by the infamous ‘Coach Joey D’.

Joey Diovisalvi is one of the biggest names in golf fitness. He helped revolutionise the methods of improving the golf swing by teaching players how to workout and train specifically for golf.

“Joey D is an absolute animal,” laughs Chase. “He works out with the guys he’s training, so he’s working out five or six times a day. You’ll see him at 7am and he’s already done a six or seven-mile run, a 20-mile bike ride, things like that. He’s got this awesome energy. He pushes every single person to be better. He expects so much of you and if you don’t give him what he wants, he pounds on you. He gets on my brother and Dustin all the time, and I absolutely love it.”

Brooks Koepka And Chase Koepka Playing Together

Away from the tour, Chase insists he and his brother are like any other siblings. “When it’s just us, there’s no golf,” he says. “Obviously, when there are other people in the conversation, they try to include it a little bit but we try to ignore golf as much as we can. My brother’s one of these guys who, when he’s playing golf, he’s playing golf; when he’s outside of golf, there’s no golf.

“So, we’ll be watching other sports, talking about what’s going on in the sports world. Basketball, baseball, football. We’re pretty big into all of those.”

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Whilst Brooks is currently basking in the glow of his most recent US Open win, Chase has a big few months coming up if he wants to retain his European Tour card. At the time of writing, he’s just inside the top 200 on the Race To Dubai, with only the top 110 at the end of the regular season in October rolling over their privileges into next year. If he’s worried that he won’t, he’s not showing it.

“I’m just trying to take it one week at a time,” he says. “If I focus too much on trying to get onto the PGA Tour, or into the top 50 or 60 of the world rankings, or into all the majors and all the big events, then I’m not really focusing on what’s in front of me. What’s in front of me, is the tournament that’s happening right here, right now, this week. I’ve got a good team around me and I’m moving in the right direction.

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“I’m not looking at Brooks winning majors and thinking, ‘I need to do that this year or next year or else I’m going to fall behind him’. I’m just trying to get better and better each week and I feel like I’ve been doing that. I got off to a bit of a slow start this year but my game’s there.

"Now, it’s just about piecing together the scores and letting the results take care of themselves.”

• This feature first appeared in issue 165 of bunkered (August 2018)

Issue 165 Full Size

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