Sport US Open

Thursday 24 August 2017

Switch from player to caddy pays off as Irishman Ricky Elliott hits jackpot

Antrim man bags a massive pay day as he steers superb Koepka to stunning US Open victory

Ricky Elliott congratulates Brooks Koepka after the American’s victory in the US Open. Photo: AP
Ricky Elliott congratulates Brooks Koepka after the American’s victory in the US Open. Photo: AP

Brian Keogh

It took only two missile-like shots from Brooks Koepka for Ricky Elliott to realise he had made a great decision to give up his dreams of being a Tour player.

"He's striping these shots," Elliot said of his initial meeting with the future US Open champion, when he stood in for what was meant to be a one-off caddying appearance in the 2013 US PGA at Oak Hill.

"I'm, like, 'happy days'. I was still (caddying) in Europe, but you know what it's like when you see a good player. He made the cut that week, played with Tiger (Woods) on the Sunday and said to me in the locker room: 'Do you fancy doing a few in Europe?'"

It wasn't a hard decision.

Elliott is now $216,000 (€193,427) richer - his 10pc share of a $2.16m (€1.93m) US Open jackpot.

And he admitted that the feeling he got striding to victory alongside Koepka at Erin Hills on Sunday was every bit as exciting as it was winning the Irish U-16 Boys Championship at Warrenpoint in 1993 and the Ulster Boys in 1995.

"I tried the teaching thing, I tried playing, I tried every other aspect to golf, but I really loved the competitive side and the gamble of going out there and playing," said Elliott, who - unlike his close pal Graeme McDowell - has lost nothing of his Antrim lilt after 20 years in the US.

"If you miss the cut, you go home. I love the competition of the golf and, if you can't do it yourself, this is the next best thing.

"It's been brilliant. Golf has been my life since I grew up in Portrush. It's what you do.

"I never thought after I quit golf that you could get the feeling of winning something and doing something great in golf. As I say, caddying is the next best thing and I've got that similar feeling."

Elliott was no mean player, spending four years on a scholarship at the University of Toledo in Ohio, where he helped the Rockets qualify for the 1999 NCAA Championships.

He tried the mini-tours after college, failed miserably and became an assistant at exclusive Lake Nona in Orlando, where McDowell and a host of other European stars were living.

"I sucked as a pro and it was the next best thing to go caddying," Elliott said just minutes after Koepka's imperious four-stroke win.

"I played a couple of years on the mini-tours, and I realised how tough it was. I grew up with G-Mac, and I saw what he was doing.

"I mean, these guys are so good I am glad I gave it up.

"I was at Lake Nona for seven or eight years, as an assistant, did a bit of teaching and then the caddying opportunity came up with Maarten Lafeber in Europe for two years."

Elliott went on to work for former collegiate rival Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, for three years after that and loved every minute.

It was only by chance that he picked up Koepka's bag for the US PGA at Oak Hill four years ago and he didn't have to think twice when offered the gig full-time.

"Since that point, he hasn't won as much as he should have on paper, but he has always had the talent to pull off something like this," Elliott added.

"He has got a Major game, obviously. He always thought he could win something big and probably hasn't put away enough PGA Tour events to validate winning something this big on paper.

Contending

"But he is a Major player; he hits it long, he does everything, he chips it well, he putts it well. Statistically, he should be contending in these things, and it is just about crossing the line for him, and he did it."

Elliott, a hugely affable character, became a US citizen in 2015, joking: "I had to say a sentence in English and I had to spell a word - and I just squeaked by that."

He felt awkward facing some of his closest friends as Koepka's caddie for last year's Ryder Cup, but he credits the experience - and the sight of his pal Dustin Johnson winning last year at Oakmont - as the key to the powerful American's emergence as a major winner.

The 27-year-old Floridian felt like an underachiever despite winning the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open, the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open and last year's Dunlop Phoenix title in Japan.

"There is no doubt that experience helped him today," Elliott said of Koepka's Ryder Cup awakening at Hazeltine.

"He is seeing all his peers do it and seen Dustin do it last year. Once you see one of your peers do it, it is a little like the G-Mac and Rory thing back in the day - if G-Mac can win the US Open, I am going to win it next year. That definitely helps."

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