Easy course. Brutally difficult course. We’ll take all your U.S. Opens.
Brooks Koepka shot a final-round 2-under 68 to become just the second man since the early 1950s to repeat as U.S. Open Champion, overcoming an all-time great major championship round from England’s Tommy Fleetwood to win by one stroke in his championship defense.
An extraordinarily controversial tournament at Shinnecock Hills, ended the same way it started: with Koepka as the most recent champion. The 28-year-old Florida native showed tremendous grit, confidence, skill, and an unshakeable demeanor in taking down the toughest test professional golf has to offer for the second-consecutive year.
It was not quite the same as what he did last year at Erin Hills, when he won at 16-under-par, but even taking an additional 17 strokes, he still came out on top at his national golf open.
Setting a new standard for U.S. Open success, Koepka has already carved out a legacy in his late 20s, as the man who shows his best when everything is at its most difficult. If the exceptionally-fit Koepka was a race horse, his breeding rights would be hitting nine digits after today.
As for the USGA and the U.S. Open, they took a hard hit from everyone after the disaster on Saturday, but they bounced back with a difficult, but fair, Sunday setup that saw just a small handful of sub-70 scores, even if Fleetwood’s historically-brilliant round threatened to make a mockery of the governing bodies.
Koepka earned the win, and those who were able to go low on Sunday had to put together a remarkable performance to do so.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Brooks Koepka +1
2 Tommy Fleetwood +2
3 Dustin Johnson +3
4 Patrick Reed +4
5 Tony Finau +5
6 Daniel Berger +6
6 Henrik Stenson +6
6 Xander Schauffele +6
6Tyrrell Hatton +6
10Justin Rose +7
10 Webb Simpson +7
12 Zach Johnson +8
16 Louis Oosthuizen +9
16 Hideki Matsuyama +9
16 Paul Casey +9
20 Rickie Fowler +10
20 Steve Stricker +10
25 Justin Thomas +12
25 Bryson DeChambeau +12
25 Ian Poulter +12
36 Brian Harman +13
36 Pat Perez +13
45 Marc Leishman +15
45 Patrick Cantlay +15
48 Phil Mickelson +16
48 Jim Furyk +16
56 Jimmy Walker +17
62 Andrew Johnston +19
HOW BROOKS KOEPKA WON
He might look like the arrogant jock who gets his comeuppance in every cheesy romantic comedy. But in reality, he is a classy guy who happens to be one of the best at what he does, and he showed elite resiliency befitting of the first U.S. Open back-to-back champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
On Thursday, the defense looked like maybe too much for Koepka, as he shot an opening-round 75 and reached 7-over after 22 holes of the championship.
However, once he decided to take control, the rest of the field was in trouble. Koepka shot a 66 on Friday to get back into the tournament, and after a third-round 2-over 72 in some of the most difficult conditions in major championship history, he came into the final round tied for the lead with three others.
On Sunday, Koepka took the solo-lead quickly with birdies on 2, 3, and 5. He was not quite as hot after that, but continued to play well enough to stay slightly ahead.
After a birdie on the par-5 16th off the strength of a tremendous third shot that landed less than four feet from the hole, Koepka was in a position where he would need an epic collapse to lose.
That did not happen.
A par-bogey finish put the finishing touches on a well-earned championship, with a 3-under 68 putting him in a final position one better than what Tommy Fleetwood put together, and two better than what close friend and 18 and 36-hole leader Dustin Johnson was able to compile.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR KOEPKA
Given the talent and skill he has shown the past two years, it seems crazy that the U.S. Open now represents 67% of Koepka’s career PGA Tour victories, but it feels safe to say that there will be many more.
He missed nearly four months of the current season in convalescence from a wrist injury, but he did not appear to miss a beat on Long Island.
A blazing final round 63 at THE PLAYERS Championship put him back on the national radar, and the rust had appeared to have been long shaken off coming into the week, despite a surprisingly mediocre T30 at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
Every facet of Koepka’s game was clicking this week. For the tournament, he lead the field in strokes gained: approach-the-green, an important stat in U.S. Opens, along with strokes gained: total, while finishing second in driving distance, third in strokes gained: putting, and third in greens in regulation.
This was an unequivocally complete performance.
The three best players on Sunday were as follows: Tommy Fleetwood, Tommy Fleetwood, and Tommy Fleetwood. The 27-year-old seemed to be playing a different course than the rest of the field on Sunday, tallying one birdie after another in an event where birdies were exceptionally scarce.
Starting the day in 23rd place after a third-round 78, Fleetwood quickly found the remedy for whatever plagued him on Saturday, with four birdies in his first seven holes.
After back-nine birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 14, and 15, he posted a major-record tying 63 that gave a clear target for the rest of the field. All the late starters knew they needed to at least get to 2-over to have a chance, and only Koepka actually reached that number.
It was a brilliant performance from the reigning European Tour Race To Dubai champion Fleetwood, and only one player in the field was even within three strokes of his Sunday score.
Early on, Koepka’s biggest challenge to the Shinnecock Hills crown came from Patrick Reed, the man who donned the green jacket in April’s Masters Tournament. Starting the day at 6-over, Reed was a man on a mission early, carding birdies on five of his first seven holes, to assert himself as a serious threat to complete the rare feat of taking the year’s first two majors.
After No. 7, though, Reed calmed down considerably, playing the rest of his round in 3-over par, but he was a factor until very late. There are still two majors and many tournaments left to play, but Reed has made a great case so far to take this year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.
The only other player who looked to be in the same ballpark as Fleetwood on Sunday was another man looking for his first major title. Rickie Fowler shook off an abysmal 14-over 84 on Saturday, and shot 19(!) strokes better on Sunday with a 5-under 65, to jump from 61st place into a tie for 20th.
It still was not quite the result that the talented American had imagined coming into the week, but it was a fantastic finish that should give the Masters runner-up some confidence going into the year’s last two majors.
With a pristine tee-to-green game and an enviable recent record, Justin Rose was a popular pick coming into the week, and just one stroke off the lead coming into Sunday, the 2013 U.S. Open Champion was at the top of most analyst’s short lists.
Unfortunately for the Englishman, his game did not translate with the slightly easier Sunday conditions. A double bogey-bogey stretch on Nos. 4 and 5 seemed to do Rose in as a 3-over 73 meant a T10 finish, despite leading the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green for the week.
It was especially disappointing considering Rose spent the final two rounds paired with Henrik Stenson, a man he has teamed with to form a formidable two-some in the last two Ryder Cups.
Matching Rose’s 73 was 54-hole co-leader Daniel Berger. Berger vaulted 44 spots up the leaderboard after a 66 playing early on Saturday, but his seven strokes gained on the field putting was not sustainable, and he provided little pressure to Koepka on Sunday.
However, at T6, it was the best career major finish for the 25-year-old two-time PGA Tour winner.
Among those with a chance at the championship on Sunday, easily the worst performance came from 2003 U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk.
The 48-year-old who will captain the U.S. team September’s Ryder Cup was in line for him best performance in over a year, but looked completely overwhelmed on a Sunday that saw him drop 41 spots down the final leaderboard after a field co-high 10-over 80.
In his nightmare final round, the former FedExCup Champion lost more than seven strokes to the field tee-to-green. It was a huge disappointment for a grizzled vet who many believed stood a good chance in an event that is as much about surviving as it is winning.
“To be honest with you, probably couldn’t have dreamed of it in my wildest dreams. I’m at a loss for words right now, but it’s really incredible. I mean, I couldn’t be happier. We grinded our tail off this week to come back from 7-over and do what we did. It was pretty special.”
– Brooks Koepka