Her game heading in the right direction, Suzann Pettersen returns to the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic early next month, hoping to crack the winner’s circle and end the year on a high note.
Some good vibes on her side, a two-time major winner Pettersen racked up a creditable third at ANA Inspiration among her four top-10s on the LPGA Tour and a second at Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Meryem Cup, signaling her return to form.
Currently ranked 30th in the world, the 36-year- old Oslo native will be looking to summon her top game and end a winless spell since the 2015 Manulife LPGA Classic when she joins the starting line-up at the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic to be held at Emirates Golf Club from December 6 to 9, seeking a revenge of sorts after finishing in a tie for 35th in her maiden appearance last year.
“I show up to win tournaments, get better and break my own records. I hate losing. I still feel the desire every morning when I wake up to go out and try and become better than I was yesterday,” said Norwegian ace, who boasts 22 professional wins, including seven on the Ladies European Tour.
“Fortunately, we’re in a sport where you have age on your side. There’s always bits and pieces you feel like you can do better, improve. So, losing is probably my biggest motivation,” said Pettersen, who reached a career-high No.2 in the world rankings after her victory in the Evian Championship in 2013 and held that position several times.
“It was my first time in Dubai last year, but the experience was just amazing. They have a great field, a great course and the players feel welcomed. The whole place has a really buzzing and pulsating atmosphere. I look forward to visiting the vibrant city and hope I will be in mix coming down the final stretch.
“However, for that to happen, it would take something special to beat the challenge, but I will try my best and see what happens,” said Pettersen, who has fully recovered from a slipped disc that forced her to withdraw from this year’s Solheim Cup.
“If you can’t even be 90 per cent there’s no point. So you have to kind of be honest with yourself, look yourself in the mirror and say are you fit enough to go or not,” said the Norwegian who has featured in the biennial golf tournament for professional women golfers eight times.
Commented Peter Dawson, chairman of Golf in Dubai, the promoters and organizers of the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic: “We are delighted to welcome Suzann back to Dubai. She has been at the top of the women’s golf for a long time now and I know her desire to win tournaments is undiminished. I wish her the very best.”
He doesn’t step onto the Earth course proper until Thursday, but Jon Rahm’s otherworldly first year as a professional yielded another accolade on Tuesday as he was named European Tour Rookie of the Year.
The young Spaniard burst onto the scene at the 2016 US Open, competing while still an amateur, and finished in a tie for 23rd.
He entered the tournament at Oakmont Country Club ranked 766th in the world – 17 months on Rahm has rocketed 761 places up to fifth.
He’s notched up some fine victories, including the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open in January, and his maiden European Tour win, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, in July.
He enters the DP World Tour Championship fourth in the Race to Dubai rankings, and even though he can’t win the overall title, he will leave Dubai with at least one piece of silverware.
Not bad for a player who didn’t even begin 2017 with a European Tour card.
“Just to be here, in this position, I’m really happy and blessed, and it’s something I’m really proud of,” Rahm, 23, said as he received his rookie honour from European Tour CEO Keith Pelley at the beginning of his press conference at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“It’s a very, very satisfying feeling. If you told me at the beginning of the year I was going to be here at fourth in the Race to Dubai standings, playing the way I’ve done, Rookie of the Year when I wasn’t even a member at the start of the year, it’s a truly special feeling.
“I haven’t checked all the names on it but I’ve seen Sam Torrence there so I’m guessing there’s a lot of other great names, so it’s a huge honour.”
When he looks a little closer Rahm will find he’s in excellent company. Tony Jacklin, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and Brooks Koepka are previous recipients. And although he said luck had played a big part in his remarkable debut season, he revealed he’s been preparing for it for years.
“I feel like every star or planet that needed to be aligned, did, for me to accomplish this,” said Rahm, a native of Barrika, near Bilbao, in the Basque Country.
“I really don’t know why. I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I could get something out of a lot of tournaments.
“It’s just preparation. I’ve been getting myself mentally ready for my rookie year a long time and, like a few others, I’ve been able to have a really successful rookie year. I just hope it’s not the highlight of my career.
“It’s a question I feel like I answer every week (are you surprised with how rapidly you’ve progressed). Never in a million years would I have expected to have accomplished what I have and be in the position I’m in.
“Top five in the world, fifth in the FedExCup, fourth in the Race to Dubai. I could have hoped for it, but never have predicted it. I’m really, really proud. I know it’s hard to keep it going but I want to keep it going.”
So busy has his first year as a pro been, that Rahm admitted he hasn’t even had the chance to properly celebrate his stellar campaign with many of his friends and family back home, having only spent a week of 2017 in Spain – and that was in the south, preparing for The Open.
“I haven’t been there (home) yet, I don’t know,” said the Arizona State University graduate, whose father Edorta was in attendance at the press conference, when asked what the reaction had been in Barrika.
“The only week I was able to be in Spain was after Ireland and I was in the south of Spain, trying to practice for The Open.
“You can ask my friends and my dad that. They keep telling me you can’t imagine the reactions, I can only think. So I can’t tell you. But I’ll be going home at Christmas for three weeks.”
Prior to his press conference, Rahm is presented with the @EuropeanTour #RookieOfTheYear trophy by Kieth Pelley, the tour’s CEO. It’s been won previously by such names as Sam Torrence, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Poulter and Garcia pic.twitter.com/67PFwSZGqd
— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) November 14, 2017
Chase Koepka was sitting on the edge of his sofa on the day his older sibling won the US Open. Mostly because of nervous excitement, partly because he had a plane to catch.
“I was supposed to pack up and leave for Denmark,” Koepka explains. “I just couldn’t pack because I was so glued to the TV and as soon as he got done I had to rush.
“I packed within 15 minutes for four weeks – which is probably the most impressive thing I’ve done all year.”
Chase left Brooks’ house in a hurry and made the 60-mile interstate trip to the airport in Fort Lauderdale before, already on his way to Copenhagen, he received an offer that he found desperately hard to refuse.
“He wanted me to come and hang out with him in Las Vegas but I was like ‘I’ve gotta go play golf,’” says Koepka.
“I was really tempted but the thing was I was playing good golf and I really couldn’t afford to take a week off at that point.
“I still had a lot of work to do and luckily that week turned out well.”
While Brooks found himself with an extra €2million (Dh8.5m) to play with after his triumph at Erin Hills, a few days later Chase pocketed about €6,000 (Dh25,500) in Denmark after tying for fifth place.
But though it may seem like the pair live in two different worlds, they really don’t.
It was only four years ago that Brooks was travelling down the very same path as Chase is now by earning his professional spurs on the European Challenge Tour.
For an American to give up the comforts of home and country-hop across several continents is a rarity, but for the Koepkas, intrepidness runs in the family.
Four years after Brooks graduated to the main European tour, Chase, also at the age of 23, has made the same leap. All it took was a little faith and a few precious invites from Challenge Tour director Alain de Soultrait.
“I said to him, ‘I won’t need many invites, so when I do get them I’ll make the most of them’,” Koepka recalls.
“I just remember coming off from Kazakhstan where I finished second and giving him a big hug, telling him I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.
“It was awesome, he was very proud of me and if someone like that is able to help out, and for them to turn it into a European Tour card, they get pretty excited about that so was I.
“I think all the experiences with the bad weather, and going to places the I would never have thought I would go and see, I think it’s made be a better, more-rounded player and it’s helped me grow up a little bit.
“I’m 23 years old, I’m seeing the world, I’m not really complaining about where I have to go – and however many 20-hour travel days I’ve had to do.
“Missing family and friends is the biggest thing – I didn’t see my brother for five months.
“We were living together up until eight weeks ago, and I didn’t see him. Every time I came home he was winning the US Open, or competing in The Open Championship.”
When the pair do meet up there is no chance of Chase wilting under the star power of his big brother. The Koepkas aligned forces in the team-format Zurich Classic in April and Chase did a lot of the heavy lifting on the way to a fifth-place finish.
“I outplayed my brother the first three days and he knew it too, he was banking on me a little bit because I was hitting it so well,” adds Koepka.
While Chase certainly does not lack for confidence, his brother, a men’s fitness pin-up, has the size and a power advantage that comes with it.
Both train with golf fitness guru Joey D back in Florida but an already diminutive Chase has lost 13 pounds this season travelling the world, ‘as spending 20 or 25 euros on a good meal gets pretty daunting’ when playing at a level where prize money is not in abundance.
But the former University of South Florida star is used to punching above his weight all the way back to his childhood.
“Brooks and I were super competitive growing up, we both played baseball and basketball,” he says.
“If my brother was good enough to play baseball, I guarantee he’d be playing that instead of golf and same with me.
“If I was about eight inches taller I’d probably play basketball instead of golf. It was great, we both pushed each other so much. We also fought too but that’s part of it.
“That four-year age gap, he was always doing things a little bit different and he was a bit bigger, stronger.
“But basketball was the one thing I knew I could beat him at every time no matter how much smaller I was.”
Gaining weight and most importantly gaining respect as a rising star in his own right is on the agenda for 2018 and, if all goes to plan, the Americans will have their own Ryder Cup siblings to call upon.
“The Molinari brothers have both played in Ryder Cups,” says Chase while looking towards the future.
“With how quickly my brother has become one of the top 10 golfers in the world, everyone now looks at me and thinks ‘why not him?’
“But we do play totally different games. Hitting the ball a little bit further would help but I’m so accurate off the tee, I control my irons so well, my wedge game I think is world class when I’m out there and that I make so many birdies.
“Around the greens I’m very good but think I need to sharpen it up a little.
“There are some weeks out there I’m making every single up and down and holing putts from everywhere.
“That’s why I’ve got to start doing that a little bit more in order to win.”
Now both brothers are on a level playing field – but there’s enough space in golf for two Koepkas.