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SMASH FACTOR: KOEPKA BROTHERS CHERISHING THEIR TIME AS TEAMMATES

Written by MIKE MCALLISTER

MIAMI – Chase Koepka had just finished his final round in Chicago last month. His 5-under 67 not only was his best round as a LIV Golf member, it also was the lowest score that day recorded by Smash GC, the team captained by his brother Brooks. And it gave Smash a small glimmer of hope of capturing its first win of the inaugural season.

At that point, Smash was just one shot behind Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces GC, the team that had won the previous three events. The final group, which included Johnson and Smash’s Peter Uihlein, still had one hole left. A tie score at the end of regulation would have required the team title to be decided by two players from each team, each playing his own ball. The twosome with the lowest combined score on the playoff hole would win the title for their team.

As captain, Brooks had to make the decision on which two players to send out if a playoff was necessary. He had already made up his mind. Uihlein, the eventual runner-up to Chicago individual winner Cameron Smith, would be one. The other one would be Chase – and not the four-time major-winning former world No. 1 older brother.

“It was the coolest thing I’ve gotten out of this so far,” Chase Koepka recalled. “He looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re going out if we have to go to a playoff. You’re going out instead of me.’”

As it turned out, 4 Aces GC avoided the playoff as Johnson sealed the title with a birdie on the final hole at Rich Harvest Farms. But the mere fact that Brooks was confident enough in his little brother to select him with a team title on the line … well, that warm feeling continued to resonate a month later as Chase told the story.

“For him to say that, well, he’s a man of very few words,” Chase said. “It just showed that he believes in me. And in retrospect, that I should believe in myself.”

Two tournaments later, Smash GC – which also includes veteran Jason Kokrak – finally broke into the winner’s circle, capturing the title at LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah and moving into the fifth seed in the season-long standings. That allows Smash to decide which team it wants to face in Friday’s Quarterfinals at the LIV Golf Invitational Miami Team Championship, the final event of the inaugural season. The matchups will be announced Wednesday.

Not only does Smash GC enter the three-day event with plenty of momentum, the American foursome will likely receive plenty of support at Trump National Golf Club Doral. The Koepka brothers, as well as Uihlein, live in South Florida and are hoping to lean on the hometown friends and family.

Of course, with two brothers on the same team, Smash has the built-in family advantage. And playing together during this LIV Golf season has brought the Koepkas closer together. Chase has been a LIV member since the first event in London when he played for Phil Mickelson as a member of Hy Flyers GC. Once Brooks joined for the second event in Portland as Smash captain, Chase made the natural move to join his brother.

“It’s incredible to have him as my teammate,” Brooks said. “Pretty fun. Probably never dreamed of it. But to have the opportunity to play with him is pretty special and pretty unique. You know, nobody else is out here who has got their brother, and it’s been fun. We’ve become a lot closer because of it.”

It comes at a perfect time for each brother’s career.

Since winning multiple majors and becoming one of golf’s elite players, 32-year-old Brooks has been battling injury issues that, for a brief moment, caused him to worry whether his career was finished. He’s worked diligently to return to form, to perform to his capabilities.

Having teammates who count on him was a motivating factor. Having his brother as one of those teammates was an even bigger deal. “The team thing has revived me,” Brooks said. “Like Chase said, it’s been special.”

Brooks has 16 career wins, the most recent being his LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah title when he beat Uihlein on the third playoff hole. Chase, meanwhile, is still seeking his first professional win of any kind since turning pro in 2016.

Chase has had a few top 10s, and five years ago, he and Brooks played together in a two-man team event in New Orleans in which they finished fifth. Rarely, though, did they have opportunities to play in the same field. While Brooks was acquiring major hardware on the top circuit, Chase was trying to simply establish his career, playing mostly on developmental tours and in Europe.

Brooks’ success naturally casts a large shadow, but 28-year-old Chase hasn’t shied away from it. In fact, he’s played some of the best golf in recent LIV Golf events with Brooks looking on.

He finished ninth in Chicago after that closing 67, his best result of the season. At Jeddah, he finished 14th, shooting three rounds in the 60s for the first time at a LIV event. More impressive, he’s a cumulative 16 under in his last four final rounds. Compare that to Johnson, LIV Golf’s season-long Individual Champion, who is 15 under in that same span.

Big brother is impressed.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Brooks said. “It’s obviously fun to build the team up and get to see him a lot more. We’ve become closer because of it, which is special to me. I know my family is probably loving it as well.

“And it’s honestly just been really good to see. I think [Chase] might have the best scoring average on Sunday [in recent events]. … He’s played really solid. He’s been very consistent. Shows up when we need him and on Sundays, he’s right there.”

Chase admitted that getting encouragement from Brooks has a huge positive effect on his game, especially the mental side.

“It’s great having him understand that my game’s actually in a good spot,” Chase said. “I just haven’t taken advantage of some opportunities that I’ve had in the States, but I’ve been working really hard with my new coach.

“I think [Brooks] is just really happy seeing me out here playing good golf. My scores may not be all that great right now, but my game is good. Having him see that gives him confidence – and it gives me confidence when I look over and see that he believes in me.”

Chase is having fun. Brooks, having ended his 20-month victory drought, is having fun. And Smash GC definitely is having fun after the win in Jeddah. Confident and dangerous, it’s a team expecting to make some noise this week on the Blue Monster.

“It’s a tight-knit family we’ve got going on,” Chase said. “Everybody’s excited. Everyone’s happy. I think that’s bringing the best out of everybody.”

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