Steve Koepke is trying to follow the advice he has given Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School golfers as their coach.
“I preach to stay in the moment, just focus on the next shot, don’t get too high or too low,” Koepke said. “I’m trying to take my own medicine.”
Koepke, you see, is 36 really good holes from qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open. Next Monday, he’ll compete in an Open sectional qualifier in Springfield, Ohio. He’ll play 36 holes that day to try to earn a spot in the national Open, two weeks later in Pinehurst, N.C.
A record 10,127 golfers with handicaps of 1.4 or lower entered Open local qualifiers this month. Koepke was one of the three players who advanced from the 54 who played in the May 6 qualifier at Riverside’s Blue Top Ridge. It was his fifth attempt and first success at local qualifying.
Koepke’s even-par 72 was two shots better than anyone that windy day.
“It howled,” he said. “The greens were like brownish-green marble. It was a very challenging day.”
Koepke was 2-over-par through 10 holes, but brought it home in 2-under the rest of the way and waited for a lot of Iowa’s premier players — including several pros and Division I college players — to finish their rounds. He soon was faced with the realization he was heading to the next stage.
Saturday, he and his caddie/brother, Scott Koepke of Iowa City, will get in a car at 3 a.m., and drive the 517 miles to Springfield so Steve can get in a practice round at Springfield Country Club late that afternoon.
The odds of getting from Springfield to Pinehurst are longer than they were of getting from Riverside to Springfield. Last year, the top two players from a field of 39 got from the Springfield qualifier to the Open. There were almost as many PGA Tour pros as amateurs in that field. It took a score of 9-under 135 to qualify.
“I’m playing with guys who do this for a living,” Koepke said. “But that’s the beauty of the Open. It’s open to all.”
Koepke, 40, is a teacher at Taft Middle School. He has been the head boys’ golf coach at Jefferson for about 10 years, and an assistant girls’ golf coach there since 1998.
He didn’t play college golf, and didn’t even play the sport competitively until about 10 years ago.
“I didn’t have the time or the temperament to commit to it,” he said. When I was 30 I wanted to see how good I could actually get.”
Koepke quickly established himself as one of the better amateur players in Cedar Rapids. He won the City Amateur in 2009, and won the same event in 2011 by nine strokes.
But playing for a spot in the U.S. Open is something different.
“Usually at this time,” Koepke joked, “the alarm clock is going off (to wake him from this dream).
“But if I truly play to my ability and play well on top of that, there no reason to think I can’t do it. If I didn’t feel that way, I shouldn’t go.”
He’s going, and representing Jefferson in doing so.
“I’ll be wearing my Jefferson shirt,” Koepke said. “I bleed blue. I’m proud to support our colors.”
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