Brooks Koepka has world No1 in his sights again in Abu Dhabi
Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne the two Irishmen in the field for first of Rolex Series
Brooks Koepka of the United States walks to the clubhouse during a practice round ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Maybe it’s the lure of the greenbacks that has Brooks Koepka teeing up in this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship – now elevated to a Rolex Series event – but the American, who has the chance to leapfrog back over Justin Rose into the world number one position, doesn’t intend to take up his European Tour membership again. At least not in the foreseeable future.
Koepka – who successfully defended his US Open title and also claimed the US Open championship last season – cut his teeth as a fledgling professional in Europe, firstly on the Challenge Tour and then on the main circuit, but has ruled out any return.
“It’s obviously very tough, especially with the (PGA Tour) schedule now, being so compact . . . . I don’t feel like I can play my best all year long coming over (to play the European Tour) and going back to the PGA Tour and flip-flopping on both. I learned that my first year. It’s a lot of travel, a lot of hours. I don’t know a sport where there’s more hours travelling time zones. You end up getting lost a little bit, don’t really know where you are at times. It’s very difficult.”
Koepka was the standout player in the Majors last year, despite missing the Masters due to a wrist injury, yet claims that he failed to meet all of his set targets. “(This year) I want to make sure I make all the cuts. I missed a cut (last season). I didn’t finish top-10 half the time. I wasn’t healthy. That’s a big one. (But) then, obviously to win a major and win multiple times on tour, I knocked those off.”
Providing an insight into his thinking ahead of the Abu Dhabi tournament – the first of a Middle East swing that also takes in next week’s Dubai Desert Classic and the following week’s inaugural Saudi Arabia tournament – Koepka added of the type of goals he sets: “Little things, like going to bed at 10 o’clock every night on the road. Working out five days a week on the road, minimum. It’s not always on the golf course. I’ve got to separate it. Goals on the road and then the golf goals.”
Koepka, who could leapfrog Rose in the world rankings with a top-three finish, frontlines a strong line-up in Abu Dhabi, where Shane Lowry – who spent last week preparing at thee Butch Harman golf academy in Dubai – and Paul Dunne, both coming off their winter breaks, the two Irishmen in the field.
For his part, Henrik Stenson has put his injury woes behind him as he finally seeks to claim a win on a course where he has been a multiple runner-up . . . . and has also given the seal of approval to Pádraig Harrington’s appointment as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the defence of the trophy at Whistling Straits next year.
“On my end, it was very expected. It felt like he was next in line and that he’s up and ready for it. He’s been a world-class player for many, many year and a very successful one as well. I think he’ll bring his calmness. He’s kind of even-keeled, not really super highs and super lows. He stays balanced. I think each of the captains has got to put their own twist on it and he’ll bring his own personality and experience and thoughts on what he would like to see.”
On the PGA Tour, Séamus Power will be aiming to bounce back from a missed cut in the Sony Open when he competes in the Desert Classic at La Quinta, California. The Waterfordman struggled in Hawaii – hitting only 35 percent of fairways and only 47 percent of greens in regulation – and will need to find an immediate improvement in both areas if he is to arrest a poor run of form. Power is joined in the field at La Quinta by Graeme McDowell, making his first competitive appearance of the year.
Matt Kuchar’s win in the Sony Open – his second in three starts on the wraparound schedule – has, at 40, hit the hottest patch of his career. “I’m not sure I’m into making statements, but it is interesting to see how young the tour has gotten. It’s an exciting time to be part of the tour and to see all these young players come out and do great things. But thankfully golf requires so many different things to be going right. It’s not just a power game, a putting game. There are so many facets to the game that it allows people to play for a long time and play competitively and play great for a long time.”