Abu Dhabi: With the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship set to get under way on Thursday, the world’s top golfers were given a pleasant surprise as they went out for their practice rounds on Tuesday, with the course showing no ill effects from the recent bad weather.
One man who will be eager to make the most of the impeccable conditions — thanks to the hard work of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club greenskeepers — is Brooks Koepka.
The world No. 1 is in town keen to show why he is there on top of the heap. The two-time US Open and PGA Championship winner is the star attraction in a glittering field competing for the Falcon Trophy that includes world No. 6 Patrick Cantlay, 2018 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic winner Bryson DeChambeau, Ireland’s 2019 Open champion and HSBC Championship defending champion Shane Lowry and South Africa’s 2010 Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.
Koepka is returning to the UAE capital with some unfinished business as he could only take ninth place last year as Lowry marched to the title. But he intends to enjoy himself while bidding to add more silverware to his burgeoning trophy cabinet.
“I love this place,” he told the media on Tuesday. “It is always fun to get back here. It kind of reminds me of when I first came over here to The Challenge Tour and spent a bunch of time here in Dubai.
“The golf course is really good. It’s in great shape, even after all the rain that they have had here. It’s just a place I like coming to. I felt comfortable here and hopefully play well this week.”
Despite only being 29 himself, Koepka felt something like a seasoned veteran as he was upstaged by Dubai-based wonder kid Josh Hill during their practice round together.
The golf course is really good. It’s in great shape, even after all the rain that they have had here. It’s just a place I like coming to. I felt comfortable here and hopefully play well this week
The 15-year-old became the youngest winner of an official world-ranking event in Al Ain last October and will be making his European Tour debut this week.
He certainly had good company as he played eight holes with Koepka — and rather than be overawed by the situation, he got the better of the Ryder Cup hero.
“I know if I’d been in his situation I would have been as nervous as hell,” Koepka said.
“I was impressed with him, I really was — his attitude, the way he goes about things, the questions he asked. He’s a good player and if he keeps progressing like he should he’s got all the potential in the world.
“He beat me in an eight-hole match, so he got the better of me, which I’m sure enjoyed, as he should. It’s cool. It’s always fun to get to play with these young kids, and you really see in 10 years when I’m close to being on my way out, all these kids that will be up and winning a bunch. It’s cool to see.”
With the HSBC Championship being the first of the European Tour flagship Rolex Series events, the tournament carries a hefty purse and plenty of Race to Dubai points. But the title is as important as and windfall that will come along with the glory for Koepka.
“Obviously, it would be nice to win,” he said. “These Rolex Series Events are what you have more emphasis on winning. It’s what you want to win. The players that are playing in this event are obviously really good, some of the best players in the world. That’s why I think everyone’s here. You want to play in the top events. You want to play in the best events you can and win them.”