I sucked as a pro, says Brooks Koepka's Northern Ireland caddy Ricky Elliott
It was a weekend to forget for Northern Ireland's golfers in the US Open, but one local man triumphed - Ricky Elliott, caddy for winner Brooks Koepka.
Portrush-born caddy Ricky won a $200,000 (£158,000) share of the bounty when Koepka equalled the tournament's lowest winning score to claim his first major.
The 40-year-old is steeped in golf. As a leading youth player at the Royal Portrush, he won boys' titles including the Ulster Boys' Championship and the Ulster Youth Championship. His parents Pat and Martha still live in the town and his brother Peter owns a golf shop in Coleraine.
Speaking after the weekend victory, Ricky says he played college golf at the University of Toledo in Ohio and then spent a couple of years in the mini tour golf circuit.
Realising he didn't have the game to make it as a tour pro, he took up an assistant professional's post at Lake Nona in Orlando, home to his friends Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.
After caddying for Maarten Lafeber, he took up the bag for 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis and has now been caddying for Koepka for around five years.
Speaking after Koepka's weekend victory, Ricky explained: "I sucked as a pro and it was the next best thing to go caddying. 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 ended up getting Brooks's bag four years ago and it is just a dream job really. It is exciting to see him do this."
Ricky joked that he is going to buy a 12-pack of Heineken with his 10% share of Koepka's $2m winnings.
He admitted the victory was a dream come true for someone with a lifelong love of the game.
"It's been brilliant. Golf has been my life since I grew up in Portrush. It's what you do," he added.
"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, it's the next best thing caddying and I've got that similar feeling.
"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. 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.
"So it is nice to be in the fortunate position to caddy for somebody who is so good, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. It is the next best thing."
Ricky first teamed up with Koepka at Oak Hill in New York for what was supposed to be a one-off partnership for the 2013 US PGA.
"The first practice we played I just thought, 'This guy is the real deal, he is hitting the ball unbelievable'. And I just held onto him. It wasn't a hard decision!" he said.
"He always thought he could win something big and probably hasn't put away enough PGA Tour events to probably validate winning something this big on paper.
"But he is a major player; he hits it long, he does everything, he chips it well, he puts it well.
"Statistically, he should be contending in these things, and it is just about crossing the line for him, and he did it."
Royal Portrush club pro Gary McNeill said Ricky has the right approach for the job.
"I think with Ricky being a good player himself, that is an important thing for caddying," he said.
"He has the experience to keep his man in check on the golf course on the big occasions. He would know when to come into the action and when to stay out of it," he says.
Gary says Ricky spotted Koepka's potential long ago.
"When we saw Ricky back in Portrush, he would always say, 'this guy is really good, he's got the potential to win big', and he was able to see that in him.
"Ricky does a lot of preparation in the run into a tournament. He does a lot of research into the course, but also the weather conditions and the grass as well, so that when they are lining putts up, they know what is going to happen.
"I think the key to being a good caddy is being reliable and being able to have the knowledge to give the player the right advice.
"It's very important to help the player control his game and control this thinking and control the decisions that they make together."