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Brooks Koepka competing at Vivint Houston Open after aiding in course’s design

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 09: Brooks Koepka of the United States plays a second shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 09, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 09: Brooks Koepka of the United States plays a second shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 09, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    Brooks Koepka discusses his role as a player consultant prior to the 2020 Vivint Houston Open.

    HOUSTON – Finding a safe place to work out during a pandemic can be difficult, but Brooks Koepka has a unique place to train this week: Minute Maid Park.

    “It's easy. There's no one there, just me and my trainer,” Koepka said.

    His friendship with Jim Crane, the owner of the Houston Astros, undoubtedly helped him gain access to the team’s home park. That relationship brought about another unique opportunity.

    Koepka was the player consultant on the dramatic renovation that this week’s venue, Memorial Park, underwent before hosting the Vivint Houston Open.

    “To be honest with you, I had no aspirations of ever being like I want to design golf courses, nothing, but then being asked to do this, it's a really cool idea,” Koepka said. “Obviously, I wanted to help Jim out.

    “I think any time you can play a hand in having some opinion on a course that we're going to play out here, I think it's unique, it doesn't happen very often. And it's been cool just to see it evolve. I know this golf course is quite difficult. It's quite long. You'll see some high numbers, especially if the wind gets up. It kind of resembles a little bit of a U.S. Open. I think some people would say, which I feel like I've done pretty good at.”

    Famed architect Tom Doak led the renovation with Koepka providing input during on-site visits and over email. Doak said he knew Koepka was serious about the project when he replied to Doak’s email in the middle of the night during the 2018 CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea, which Koepka won.

    The new Memorial Park is known for its exciting finish -- the final six holes include two potentially drivable par-4s, two par-5s, a short par-3 and a brutal finishing hole – and its lack of bunkers. There are just 20 sand traps on the course. Players will be challenged by steep slopes of short grass, instead.

    “I think it's a very tough golf course,” Koepka said. “With the rough being the way it is, you've got to put the ball in the fairway and then it's a second-shot golf course. You really have to putt a good strike on the ball, being able to spin it, be good with your long irons. There's quite a few long holes. But at the same time, it makes it quite fun if you do miss the green because you have so many options. You could putt it, you could bump-and-run it, you could flop it. It really gives the player a lot of options where I feel like you're never quite out of it.”

    Koepka said he was excited to see the finishing stretch in its completed state this week. The variety of length in the five par-3s – they range from the 155-yard 15th to the 237-yard 11th – also was one of Koepka’s recommendations.

    Some familiarity with the layout may help Koepka, who has played just once, a T28 finish at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK, since the Wyndham Championship. Injuries forced him to withdraw from the FedExCup Playoffs and U.S. Open. He declared Wednesday that he feels “great.” Now he gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

    “I've seen so many different versions of this place, from the first architectural designs to playing it today,” Koepka said. “There's been I don't know how many versions of it, but it's been quite interesting to see the little things change, the subtleties that maybe a lot of people would never notice. It's been fun, I've enjoyed the process, it's been cool just to put my, I guess, hand in something else other than just playing golf, the design -- I'll be honest, I give Tom all the credit. He came up with 99.9 percent of them and I just kind of threw in a couple ideas here and there. He's a hell of an architect, designer, so it was fun to work with him.”

    Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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