Formidable Brooks Koepka Dominates US Open at Erin Hills
BROOKS KOEPKA, a golfer who many said would be a future major champion, fulfilled his destiny by winning the US Open at Erin Hills after a phone call from defending champion Dustin Johnson.
Johnson called Koepka, who is a close friend, on the eve of the final round to wish the young American the best of luck and also to pass on some advice. It wasn’t a long call, but it was enough for Koepka, who shot a final round of 67 for a 16-under-par winning total that equalled Rory McIlroy’s record score from Congressional in 2011.
Koepka has arguably been the best of the current crop of young Americans for some time but has been unable to produce the results to prove it. And this year has not been a good one, with just two top 10 finishes.
But this was the week when it all came right for the 27-year-old. When he first saw the course he said that he had a good feeling about it because it favoured big hitters and featured generous fairways.
He got off to a flying start in the final round, with birdies at the first and second holes and when he picked up another at the eighth and reached the turn in 33, he began to believe that this was his day.Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, shot a 66 to rocket up the leaderboard and set the clubhouse target at 12 under, but it never looked to be good enough. The Japanese golfer started the week poorly and was always playing catch-up. In the end, he shared second place with Brian Harman. The American left-hander dropped a shot at the 18th after a wild drive.
Koepka moved away from the field with successive birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes, and it meant that he could play the 17th and 18th safe in the knowledge that nobody was going to catch him.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, playing with Koepka, was unable to keep pace on the front nine and eventually finished on 11 under par in fourth place.
The 26-year-old Englishman birdied the second hole, but three bogeys in six holes meant that he trailed Koepka by five shots. He birdied the ninth and 14th holes but his race had been run.
“I didn’t play the way that I wanted to,” Fleetwood said. “You never quite know how you are going to react to being up there in the final round of a major. It is all new to me, and you have got to deal with it.”
Fleetwood praised the winner. “Brooks was brilliant out there, especially the shots he hot down the stretch. You cannot describe how difficult some of them are. I would have liked to have played like that. It was windy and he shot five under par.”Erin Hills was the subject of a huge amount of criticism before the US Open began, but it was the star of the show. Wild drives were punished, as they should be. But it provided a fair test and rewarded good golf shots. For once, the USGA managed to get it right. The truth is that the fairways were the widest in US Open history and Koepka won because he hit 88% of them over 72 holes, as well as averaging a cool 307 yards from the tee.
“It was bombs away for me,” said the champion. “You could hit it far and the fairways were plenty generous enough. That was a big bonus for me as I am a big ball striker. On some of these par fives I did not even have to hit a driver to get to the green in two.
He said that he putted brilliantly too – and he did. “To be in the same category as the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as a US Open champion is unbelievable. This is truly special for me.”
Justin Thomas, who produced a round of 63 on Saturday, got off to a poor start in the final round, with three dropped shots in the opening five holes. He also putted poorly and finished with a 75 and in a tie for ninth place.
And Rickie Fowler, who began the day with such high hopes of finally breaking his major duck, had to settle for a 72 and a 10-under-par total. “If you look at the negatives too much you are going to be stuck doing that the whole time,” Fowler said. “It’s a major and I gave myself a chance to win.”
Apart from Fleetwood, it wasn’t a great championship for Europe, with Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose missing the cut, and Danny Willett withdrawing after a miserable opening round. Masters champion Sergio Garcia struggled on the greens and trailed Koepka by 12 shots.
And so now they all move on to Royal Birkdale for The Open Championship. Fleetwood hails from Southport, just down the road from the course, and he will have massive local support. He also knows the course well and has proved to himself that he can compete at this level. He might well be worth a flutter.
But for now, all eyes are on Koepka.
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