Brooks Koepka isn’t willing to share details of his trip to Las Vegas right after he won the U.S. Open, which is probably just as well.
The sly grin that accompanied his short description _ “I had fun. I had a few friends out. We had a good time.” _ was in step with the familiar slogan about what happens in Vegas staying in Vegas. One thing that didn’t happen was golf.
Koepka didn’t bring his clubs during his two weeks out West. He barely touched them when he got home to Florida.
And when he traveled across the Atlantic for the British Open, he played as though he were never gone.
Competing for the first time in 32 days, Koepka ran off three straight birdies early on the back nine, and then bounced back from his lone bogey by holing a tough shot from a pot bunker on the par-5 17th for eagle. That gave him a 5-under 65 and a share of the lead with Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar.
“It was just fun to get back playing again,” Koepka said.
The four-week break was planned before Koepka won his first major at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, mainly because of a big stretch at the end of the year that included a pair of majors, a World Golf Championship, four FedEx Cup playoff events and the Presidents Cup.
And when Koepka wants a rest, he takes a complete break from his profession.
Consider this: The U.S. Open ended on June 18. Koepka didn’t get home until July 1. And from the final round of the U.S. Open until he showed up last weekend to practice at Royal Birkdale, he played one round of golf.
That was with his manager, Blake Smith of Hambric Sports, and while Koepka lost the match on the 18th hole, he spotted his agent 13 shots. He also had to do a photo shoot that involved him actually touching a golf club. That constitutes heavy lifting in Koepka’s world.
But when he flew over to Royal Birkdale on Saturday, he was ready to go.
“Not one bit,” Koepka said. “If I’m mentally recharged, my swing is … I’ve done the same thing for years, so it shouldn’t take too long to get back into it. But it was nice to get over here early and just kind of get a feel for the golf course and just play again.”
Dustin Johnson, who opened with only one birdie and shot 71, said earlier in the week that he lost momentum from his back injury at the Masters, not because he was out for four weeks but because he couldn’t swing a club while he was away from golf.
That’s not a problem for Koepka. At least it wasn’t on Thursday.
He began his round in a chilly wind off the Irish Sea that pushed away the rain but created tough conditions. Koepka, who won a Challenge Tour event in Scotland, isn’t fazed by bad weather, mainly because he’s not fazed by anything.
“Just go play golf and shoot the lowest you can,” he said.
After seven straight pars, he took advantage of the wind at his back on No. 8 for his first birdie, and then he ran off three in a row starting with the 11th that heads back toward the sea into the wind. His lone regret was a poor par putt on the 16th, but he more than atoned for that with his bunker shot for eagle.
“A terrible lie in the bunker,” he said. “It was in one of those rake marks, and my caddie told me to get inside 10 feet _ that would be pretty good. Luckily, it went in.”
Koepka has a history of taking big breaks.
After he won the Turkish Airlines Open late in 2014 on the European Tour, he took two months away from golf. He didn’t start the next season until the Phoenix Open, and he won for his first PGA Tour title.
He wasn’t rusty. He was ready. And that’s how he feels now.
“I was chomping at the bit to get back those last few days at home,” Koepka said. “I was excited to get over here. I just wanted to play golf. I just wanted to get back inside the ropes. I wanted to have those juices flowing. Sometimes it’s hard even when you’re practicing at home, if you’re playing with buddies or just playing by yourself, to get up for it. It’s funny, I’ll play with my dad and shoot 75 every time or higher. It’s hard to get into it.”
The British Open? Not so much.
“Anytime you put something on the line like that, I get up for it,” he said.