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U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka impressed from an early age

Long before Brooks Koepka was the U.S. Open champion, members of the South Florida golf community could tell he was destined for success.

Among them was Hall of Fame golf instructor Bob Toski, who seven or eight years ago spent about 20 minutes with Koepka’s father, Bob, watching Brooks hit balls while he was home from Florida State University.

“Bob looked at me and said, ‘This kid’s going to win majors. Plural,’ ” Bob Koepka said.

“Are you serious?”

“Trust me, I know it when I see it.”

“I’m hoping you’re dead on.”

Koepka, 27, won his first major Sunday at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, shooting a five-under-par 67 on the final round to win by four shots. His four-day score of 16-under tied a U.S. Open record.

It was Koepka’s second PGA Tour victory. He won the Phoenix Open in 2015 and also had six international wins, as well as a 3-1 record as a rookie on the winning U.S. team in last year’s Ryder Cup.

“The kid’s a champion,” Toski said Monday. “It was pretty obvious when he went on Tour it was just a matter of time as to how great he was going to be.”

Greg Sherman knew Koepka was something special during the four years he coached him at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, Fla., before Koepka graduated in 2008.

“I coached many fine players at Cardinal Newman,” said Sherman, who led teams to several state tournament appearances and is a chaplain for a provider of hospice care. “Of all the fine players, I would say Brooks was right there at the top.”

Sherman, who said he has known Koepka since the sixth grade, credited his father and his mother, Denise Jakows, for their son’s success.

“I can’t say enough about how Bob and his wife and Denise have really supported him,” Sherman said. “He’s really matured a lot and he had such a positive, cool demeanor about him [Sunday]. He was very calm and collected.”

And so was his father, who watched the final round on TV.

“I had such a sense of calmness all day,” Bob Koepka said. “I woke up Sunday morning and my wife and I were talking, and I said, ‘I’ve got a really good feeling about this day.’

“He called me after his workout [Sunday morning] and I said, ‘You know Brooks, I’ve got a good feeling about today.’ I said, ‘I believe in you,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I’m feeling good, I’m real confident.’

“I said, ‘Don’t come home without the trophy, this is the one you want.’”

“That’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced,” Koepka said in a news conference after the tournament. “And to do it on Father’s Day, it’s pretty neat. I didn’t exactly get my dad a card, so this works.”

“It was a pretty good card,” agreed his father, whose younger son, Chase, is also a professional golfer. “Someone asked me if this was your best Father’s Day and I said, ‘Yes, until next year.’

“It’s cool to be a U.S. Open champ’s dad.”

Toski remembered watching Koepka hit shots at a country club, where Bob Koepka was a member.

At the time, a coach at Florida State wanted Koepka to try hitting a cut like Ben Hogan. His father, aware that Toski had known Hogan, asked him what he thought.

“When I saw Brooks hit golf shots, I said, ‘He’s a Babe Ruth, he’s a Lou Gehrig,’ ” Toski said. “I said, ‘You go back and tell your coach if he tries to change your swing, you don’t need the coach, you don’t need the team, you can just play four years in college because you’re going to be a Tour player and you’re going to be a winner.’

“Brooks did his thing, and the coach didn’t do anything.”

The baseball analogy fits Koepka, who was a three-time All American at Florida State, because his father’s uncle was Dick Groat. The 1960 National League MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bob Koepka was a left-handed pitcher in college and said Brooks, who played in his first golf tournament when he was 7, was a talented shortstop, catcher and pitcher. But he gave up baseball to focus on golf when he was 12.

That has proven to be a decision with major implications.

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