USPGA champion Koepka lets class shine through at Bethpage Black

Brooks Koepka has a one-shot lead after a superb 63 to start his USPGA defence at Bethpage Black. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

Brooks Koepka has a one-shot lead after a superb 63 to start his USPGA defence at Bethpage Black. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

BROOKS Koepka’s USPGA Championship title defence got off to a perfect start at Bethpage Black  as an almost effortless seven-under 63 moved the American one clear of Danny Lee, while Tommy Fleetwood was three shots further back in outright third.

Koepka is aiming to make it four victories in eight Major appearances this week and the 29-year-old former European Challenge Tour graduate made the notoriously difficult Bethpage look like a walk in the park with a bogey-free opening round, which even included several missed birdie opportunities.

Koepka who spent three years playing on the Euorpean Tour before earning his playing rights in his native America, said: “I think it’s out there. The only thing you have to do is hit fairways. If you’re going to hit fairways, you’re going to be able to hit the greens and get the ball close to the hole.

“I mean, obviously my length is an advantage here. But I mean, the one thing I didn’t do is take care of the par-fives. I didn’t birdie any of the par-fives.

“So you can definitely shoot a number. Some of these hole locations I think are quite gettable. It’s a whole new day tomorrow. They say that (it’s difficult to follow up a great round), but plenty of people have followed it up with a good round.

“I mean, tomorrow is a whole new day. Get out here and stick to my normal routine and then go from there. But I’m excited about tomorrow.”

New Zealand’s Lee was the closest challenger after carding his best round at a Major thanks to a six-under 64, with 2017 Race to Dubai Champion Fleetwood the next best after a 67.

The Englishman came close to winning the US Open at another Long Island venue, Shinnecock Hills, last year – but a final round 63 saw him come up just short of winner Koepka, who claimed his first US Open at Erin Hills, two years ago.

Fleetwood, who spent last week as host of the Betfred British Masters at Hillside GC, before flying to New York, said: “I would say it’s a little more forgiving than the practice days have been, like it felt like there was a few chances today.

“But overall, still a brutal golf course, and as soon as you’re out of position, you’re going to struggle. Luckily enough, I hit plenty of good golf shots.

“I felt like I putted really well, like I holed out really well, and the par saves that I had, I made, whatever I made, three bogeys or something. But in general, like I didn’t really have like a five-, six-footer for par on those holes, so I holed all those putts that you want to hole that are kind of momentum putts. Felt very accepting out there, and just overall had a good day.”

Mike Lorenzo-Vera, meanwhile, shares fourth place in just his third Major appearance after the Frenchman signed for a 68, and Hertfordshire’s Matt Wallace was the next best European a shot further back on one-under.

Lorenzo-Vera said: “That was really good. I knew that was going to be a huge mental test here, and I was ready – my head was ready to go there. Sometimes my swing was not, but my head was ready. Tough to keep the head where it should be so very proud of what I’ve done today.

“It’s going to be very difficult to maintain. If I continue playing like that, I’m going to sleep less and less, shake more and more. Yeah, I know what’s awaiting me the few days coming. First of all, I’m going to have a good rest, speak to my psychologist, I guess, and then here we go again.”

Wallace, who is playing in America for the 10th time and in his sixth Major in the last three years at Bethpage’s municipal Black Course, which hosted the 2002 and 2009 US Opens, made a fast start.

Twenty-nine-year-old Wallace, who hails from Hillingdon and played at Moor Park as a junior, said: “I thought I was going to shoot 59 in the first four holes.

The former Jacksonsville State University college golfer, who made four birides in his first six holes, before making three bogeys in a row around the turn, added: “I was playing great, and really enjoyed being out there and kind of felt calm and chilled and just happy.

“And then the middle spell came, it was unexpected where I hit three bad shots, but the bogeys are going to kind of come out there, and when you’re not absolutely perfect.

“I’m happy how I dealt with that, stayed calm, made a great birdie on 12 to get it back and give myself really good chances down the last there and just missed it.”

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