The most likely Irishman to win at Royal Portrush?

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The most likely Irishman to win at Royal Portrush?

Brooks Koepka and his caddie Ricky Elliott (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Given the monopoly that Brooks Koepka seems to have on Majors lately, it’s no stretch to state that the most likely home winner of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush might be the American’s right-hand man and prize caddie, Ricky Elliot. 

A leading youth player throughout his amateur years at Royal Portrush, there’s not a blade of grass that Elliot hasn’t trod over around the special links. This week, together with Koepka, now a four-time Major champion, the pair’s ever strengthening partnership may well prove the strongest hand once more at the year’s final Major, the Open Championship. 

Elliot is a bit of a local legend around the Dunluce Links, having collected multiple boys’ titles including the Ulster Boys Championship in an illustrious amateur career representing Royal Portrush. His affinity with the place remains as strong as ever with his parents, Pat and Martha still ever presents in the town so Koepka’s shepherd won’t be short on support upon his homecoming. 

Elliot’s own amateur career never translated to his paid circuit ambitions and when he took up a post as assistant pro at Lake Nona with the help of great friend, Graeme McDowell, other doors soon opened for Elliot as he traded the players’ lounge for the caddie shack. 

It was at Oak Hill in 2013 when Elliot first linked up with the imposing Koepka. It was meant to be a one-week only affair but the potential Elliot witnessed in Koepka meant he couldn’t walk away easily. The American, who had come over from the Challenge Tour, made the cut that week and played with Tiger Woods for the final round.  

The newly established pair swiftly hit it off with Koepka’s coach asking the Northern Irishman if he fancied picking up the bag a few more times that year in Europe. The word ‘yes’ was never so quickly uttered. 

“Claude Harmon was coaching Brooks and he said he needed a caddie for Oak Hill,” Elliott recalled. 

“We made the cut and then Claude said at the end of the week, ‘do you fancy doing a few more?’ and six years later… It’s been all right. 

“The first practice we played I just thought, ‘this guy is the real deal, he is hitting the ball unbelievably’. There was just something about him. Obviously, you could never say he was going to do this, but there was always something that was different about him.” 

Perhaps what was most different was Koepka’s belief but like anything in life, to often truly believe, you have to see the results first. That realisation, the moment where the Florida native proved to himself unequivocally that he could get over the line on the biggest stage of all, came in 2017 when he became the US Open champion at Erin Hills. 

Arguably, his unbridled potential hasn’t yet been reached but after becoming the first golfer since Curtis Strange in 1989 to defend the title at Shinnecock Hills, before capturing the 2018 US PGA at Bellerive, and then going wire-to-wire to win and defend at Bethpage Black, he’s certainly getting there. 

“What he’s just done goes down in history,” Elliott believes. 

“He’s just so calm all the time. He obviously realises he’s one of the better players out here now and getting through at Erin Hills sort of stamped that on him and his place in the game now is in stone. 

“He’s just one of the best players and to be honest, he goes out there and thinks that.” 

And why wouldn’t he? Since the 2013 US PGA Championship, the pair have worked together amassing over $25 million dollars and four Major titles, including Koepka’s successful defence of his US PGA title at Bethpage Black in April. 

No wonder then that Elliot is looking forward to guiding his 29-year old charge around his hometown golf course this week, though he admits he’ll need to research some new lines off the tee in order to navigate Koepka’s path successfully. 

“Brooks has got a big following in Portrush, probably because of me, so he’ll be well supported and I think Portrush will be set up well for him,” added Elliot. 

“I’ve played there a lot growing up but Brooks hits the ball differently than the lines I hit it on. I’ll have to work on my yardage book for Brooks playing it but obviously a little local knowledge doesn’t hurt!” 

Koepka too, is looking forward to gracing the Irish golfing public with his aggressive hitting having never stepped foot on the island to this point. With the doors of Elliot’s family home open for the confident champion, no doubt his first taste of Irish hospitality will prove hard to beat. 

“It will be special for Ricky,” Koepka said. “It will be special for me. I’m sure he’s going to have his family, his mom and dad will be out there.

“I think everybody in Ireland has been waiting for this for a long time.” 

 Ireland’s Open Champions

Fred Daly 

The first Irishman to win the Open Championship, Frederick J. Daly achieved the feat in 1947 at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake. A Portrush native, Daly’s victory broke new ground for Irish golf. He went on to become the first player from this island to feature at the Ryder Cup. 

Padraig Harrington 

A full 60 years after Fred Daly’s win, Harrington became the second Irishman to get his hands on the famous Claret Jug when defeating Sergio Garcia in a playoff at Carnoustie. A links specialist, Harrington didn’t stop there; he claimed back-to-back Open titles when doubling down at Royal Birkdale in 2008. 

Darren Clarke 

At 42 years young and on his 20th Open Championship start, Darren Clarke became the third Irishman to capture a Claret Jug when getting an emotional win over the line at Royal St George’s. Clarke dedicated the victory to his two children and his late wife Heather and there was hardly a dry eye in the house watching him do it. 

Rory McIlroy 

At the Home of Golf, Rory McIlroy’s name was the next from Ireland to be inscribed upon the Claret Jug after he put on an exhibition of golf to claim a third Major crown in Scotland. Starting the final round at St Andrews six shots clear, the 25-year old posted a closing 71 for a two-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.  

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