Brooks Koepka works on global plan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- When he made his latest journey overseas, Brooks Koepka decided to get to the Middle East early. Not only did he want to get in some practice before the start of his season in Abu Dhabi, but, well ...

"I don't do very well with travel," he said. "Sometimes the jet lag gets to me."

That's not such a good thing for an American attempting to play the European Tour, which stages tournaments all over the world. Yet Koepka, 23, seems to be adjusting just fine.

Koepka didn't figure to be the American battling Rory McIlroy for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic title. That was supposed to be Tiger Woods, who struggled again Friday at Emirates Golf Club and finds himself 8 strokes behind the leader, McIlroy.

It was Koepka who made the move, shooting 7-under-par 65 to earn a Saturday grouping with McIlroy and with a shot at his first European Tour victory.

"It'll be fun," Koepka said.

That's basically the way he's approached his worldwide adventure.

A two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year while at Florida State, Koepka turned pro in 2012 but failed to earn his card at the PGA Tour qualifying school. So he headed to Europe, where he earned a spot on the Challenge Tour, the equivalent of the PGA Tour's Web.com Tour. He won tournaments in Italy, Spain and Scotland to earn a promotion to the European Tour and a full exemption this year.

Along the way, he has played in countries such as England, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Kenya and Portugal. Koepka estimates it's been 21 countries.

This week it's the UAE after Qatar last week. Soon he'll run out of pages in his passport.

"It's fun. I love it," Koepka said. "Traveling the world at 23 isn't too bad of a gig. And really one of the places I wanted to go to is Dubai. It was nice to get over here and see what it's all about."

Koepka, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., is showing that there is another way to climb the golf ladder outside of playing the Web.com Tour. Like his roommate Peter Uihlein, who missed the cut in Dubai, Koepka is playing the European Tour and gaining experience.

Although he nearly won the Frys.com Open in October on the PGA Tour, giving up a back-nine lead to Adam Scott, Koepka said he intended to take advantage of his European Tour exemption.

"I plan to play over here for a long time," he said. "Ultimately I'd love to be able to go back and forth. Adam Scott, do what he's done. Play over here, learn things about yourself, travel. Then come back and forth."

Koepka has impressed along the way. After earning his third Challenge Tour victory last June in Scotland, he boarded a late flight to London so he could participate in the next day's 36-hole Open Championship qualifier. With little sleep, Koepka earned a spot, secured a practice round with Phil Mickelson at Muirfield and earned the eventual champion's praise.

"I can see why he earned the right to get on the European Tour by winning three times so quickly on the Challenge Tour," Mickelson said.

Koepka is ranked 93rd in the world, and the next step is to climb into the top 50. That helps get spots in the World Golf Championship events as well as majors.

That, in turn, could mean earning PGA Tour membership, in which case he'd have his wish of playing both tours.

But first things first. Koepka has a Saturday afternoon tee time with McIlroy, and for one of the rare times in his career, the Northern Irishman, at 24, will be the older player in the group.

McIlroy has been a pro for nearly six years while Koepka is just getting started, but they ought to have plenty to talk about if they are so inclined.