PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Brooks Koepka has not been shy about espousing the lack of recognition he feels he’s received for his four major wins. Any other player who had done the same, he’s stated, would have a brighter light shining on them.
It won’t get any better this week but for a different reason. The golfer with the bulging biceps who has finished second, first and second in the year’s previous three majors, will be nudged from the spotlight by his caddie, Ricky Elliott, a Portrush native, and Koepka couldn’t be happier.
“I probably hear more, Ricky, hey, Ricky, what's going on, than anything,” said Koepka of the atmosphere during their practice rounds. “I'm sure he'll have quite a bit of friends and family out. It will be a special week for him, for sure.”
Of course Koepka is hoping that Elliott can do more than just introduce him to his pals and give him dinner recommendations. He’s counting on tapping into the years of local knowledge Elliott has gained during the hundreds of rounds he’s played at Royal Portrush.
“Every hole I just step up on, [and say to him] you tell me what to do, you've played it more than anybody,” Koepka stated. “So just let him figure it out. He knows the spots to miss it. The spots to come in from, with different hole locations and different winds.”
With no prior experience on the first course in Northern Ireland to host the Open since 1951, Elliott is worth his weight in Guinness. Only a handful of the golfers in the field have played Royal Portrush prior to this week and of those, it’s unlikely any have more rounds on it than Elliott, who grew up alongside another Portrush regular, Graeme McDowell. He was a strong amateur, winning junior titles and earning a scholarship to the University of Toledo. He attempted to make a go of it as a professional but soon realized he’d have more success carrying the bag than making the swings.
Elliott started his tenure with Koepka at the 2013 PGA Championship and has been alongside for all four major titles along with two regular victories. In that time, he’s gained the respect of his boss.
“Under pressure he knows exactly what to say at the right time,” said Koepka, “and that's what you want in a caddie. I wouldn't want anybody else on my bag, I know that. He's been tremendous. He's part of the reason why I've had the success I've had. And I love the guy to death.”
Knowing when a player needs a nudge and when he needs to be calmed down is a skill only a few caddies ever master. Elliott seems to know precisely when to do that. During the 2018 U.S. Open, for example, Koepka stumbled in the opening round, posting a five-over 75. Two bogeys early in the second round left the golfer steaming, at which point Elliott stepped in to remind him that seven over was still very much in it but that he needed to start playing.
“I kind of laughed at him,” recalled Koepka, “and for the first time he really got serious with me and was like, ‘No, get it going. You're not far out of it.’”
He did, of course, and went on to win.
The duo hopes to add to what has already been a remarkable run in 2019. In the year’s first three majors, Koepka is a combined 30 under-par. That’s 17 shots better than any other player. In the last four majors, only two golfer have played better than him – Tiger Woods at the Masters and Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open. That means he’s been better than 549 others.
A win this week would be special for more reasons than just a fifth major that would tie him with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson. It would be extra special for Elliott, something that would mean a lot for Koepka.
“Put it this way, I don't think when he grew up that he ever thought there would be an Open Championship here. And to top it off, I don't think he ever thought he'd be a part of it. And to be caddying and to be able to win one here would be -- he'd be a legend, wouldn't he? He already is. But it would be cool to see him win.”
This week, Koepka certainly wouldn’t mind if he didn’t get all the attention. He’d love nothing more than to share the top billing with Elliott.