While Shinnecock Hills left so many others at wits’ end, Brooks Koepka now has an entry in U.S. Open lore. So does Dustin Johnson, though The Starter thinks he’d just as soon have passed on this one.
Two more PGA Tour schedule pieces are in place, while The Greenbrier’s attempt at rebranding comes off stiff.
1. Brooks Koepka becomes 7th man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens. Tiger Woods never pulled that off, or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer. And for those who might have downgraded last year for Erin Hills’ benign bomber’s setup, Koepka proved he can take the punches of a classically brutish Open.
2. Shinnecock Hills shows off a passive/aggressive nature. Sometimes on the same day, as the same Saturday setup that yielded two morning 66s left the final four groups gasping to a combined 46-over par. With the USGA thoroughly chastised, Sunday’s setup played to a 72.18 average – lowest of the week.
3. Phil Mickelson ignites firestorm by swatting moving putt back at hole. The Hall of Famer again puts his human side on display – who among us hasn’t been tempted to do the same thing? – though his words left a bad taste. Sometimes it’s better to plead a moment of insanity and leave it at that.
THIS WEEK’S LINEUP
PGA Tour: Travelers Championship
Course: TPC River Highlands
Where: Cromwell, Conn.
Defending: Jordan Spieth
European Tour: BMW International Open
Course: GC Gut Laerchenhof
Where: Pulheim, Germany
Defending: Andres Romero
LPGA Tour: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
Course: Pinnacle CC
Where: Rogers, Ark.
Defending: So Yeon Ryu
PGA Tour Champions: American Family Insurance Championship
Course: University Ridge GC
Where: Madison, Wis.
Defending: Fred Couples
Web.com Tour: Wichita Open
Course: Crestview CC
Where: Wichita, Kan.
2017 champion: Aaron Wise
Though Dustin Johnson left Shinnecock Hills without the U.S. Open trophy, his third-place finish solidified his position back at the top of the world rankings. Johnson now leads No.2 Justin Thomas by more than a full point, with No.3 Justin Rose another half-point behind Thomas.
Brooks Koepka rose to a career-best fourth, close enough to engage in some jockeying with Thomas and Rose on the tier below Johnson.
Tommy Fleetwood also matched his career best at No.10 for the third time this year. He also cracked the Top 10 after the WGC Mexico Championship and The Players, but both times slipped back within two weeks.
THE TOP 10
1. Dustin Johnson (1st) – 9.96
2. Justin Thomas (2) – 8.76
3. Justin Rose (3) – 8.28
4. Brooks Koepka (9) – 8.15
5. Jordan Spieth (4) – 7.49
6. Jon Rahm (5) – 7.41
7. Rory McIlroy (6) – 6.78
8. Rickie Fowler (7) – 6.76
9. Jason Day (8) – 6.48
10. Tommy Fleetwood (12) – 6.24
STAT OF THE WEEK
On the flip side of Brooks Koepka entering the exclusive fraternity of back-to-back U.S. Open winners, Dustin Johnson joined a rather more inglorious big-name club – players who led an Open after every round but the last.
Johnson became the 10th member of that society, having shared the lead Thursday and Saturday around Friday’s four-shot advantage. Phil Mickelson had been the last to lead each of the first three rounds without winning, tying for second at Merion in 2013.
The list includes two other Hall of Fame members in Payne Stewart (1998, Olympic Club) and Hale Irwin (1984, Winged Foot). The others: Willie Smith (1908), Mike Brady (1912), Mike Souchak (1960), Bert Yancey (1968), T.C. Chen (1985), Gil Morgan (1992).
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.15, TPC River Highlands
Par 4, 296 yards
2017 average: 3.74 (2nd easiest)
The shortest par-4 on the PGA Tour doesn’t mean it’s the easiest, as the past six editions have seen nearly as many double bogeys and worse (53) as there have been eagles (56).
“I think what’s so great about the hole is that it basically almost forces you to go for it, if that makes sense,” Jim Furyk said last year. “There’s really no other really good option.”
A lake stands guard left of the 15th green and a small bunker lurks on the front right. Where the difficulty lies, though, is in a green that has four distinct quadrants. A wedge from layup distance to the proper quadrant is no less a challenge than taking aim for the green.
With almost 40 percent of the plays last year resulting in birdie or eagle, even a par can leave a player feeling he’s lost ground. Case in point: Daniel Berger, who played the hole in just 1-under par for the week. He wound up on the wrong end of a playoff with Jordan Spieth (three birdies).
Perhaps the most dramatic highlight at No.15 took place in the 1995 edition, when Greg Norman’s Sunday chip-in for eagle and Fuzzy Zoeller’s bogey created a three-shot swing that put the Aussie in front to stay.
2017 Travelers Championship: 9 eagles, 177 birdies, 215 pars, 59 bogeys, 7 double bogeys, 1 higher
Jim Furyk began the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship a full 16 shots off the lead, with an 8:41 a.m. tee time and hopes maybe his plane could get airborne a little early.
The PGA Tour’s first 58 has a way of changing those plans. Though he didn’t win – Russell Knox did – Furyk’s history-making feat stole the thunder at TPC River Highlands.
“It’s kind of a reminder no matter how bad you feel with your swing you’re never that far away,” said Furyk, who hit all 14 fairways and was a perfect 18-for-18 in greens in regulation.
The fireworks began at No.3, holing a wedge from 135 yards away for eagle. He followed with five birdies in his next six holes, completing the front nine in 8-under-par 27. Three more birdies to start the back got him to 11-under, with plenty of time to go even lower than the 59 he’d fired at the 2013 BMW Championship.
A makeable birdie chance at No.14 just missed, and a 7-foot birdie at the 15th spun out of the cup. The breakthrough came at the par-3 16th, curling a 23-footer into the hole to get to 12-under. Two more pars completed the triumph.
“I’ve got like 300 pictures at home with ‘59’ on them,” Furyk quipped afterward. “Gotta throw all that crap away.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Just three weeks before the first tee shots are launched, the Greenbrier Classic has been rebranded as a way to bolster its affiliation with the U.S. military. Alas, the new name comes with the kind of clunky vernacular one might expect from government sources.
Say hello to A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. Or perhaps MILTRIB, to borrow from Department of Defense lingo.
“Our state has more military members per capita than any other state, and those men and women are unbelievably important to us,” said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who also owns The Greenbrier resort.
The Greenbrier’s ties to the armed forces are plentiful. The U.S. Army operated a 2,000-bed hospital at the resort during World War II, treating some 24,000 patients. A once-secret fallout shelter for top government officials also was maintained on the site for three decades, including 18 dormitories.
Minnesota is trading the old-timers for the contemporary stars, granted an upgrade as the newest addition to the PGA Tour’s 2019 schedule. There’s a swap afoot in Houston, too, shifting spots on the calendar with a move to the fall.
Though the full schedule has yet to be unveiled, consider it two more pieces of the puzzle.
Monday brought confirmation that the 3M Championship, a staple on the PGA Tour Champions for the past quarter-century – will join the primary circuit next summer. Dates for the rebranded 3M Open have not been announced, though at least one report suggests it’ll become the new U.S. Open lead-in.
In Houston, the city’s 72-year association with the PGA Tour will continue with a big assist from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and other area businessmen. The Astros Foundation will take over tournament operations, with a smaller purse in line with other fall events.
The Houston Open technically will go missing from the 2018-19 schedule, before returning as a fall 2019 stop as part of the 2020 season.
Meantime, the LPGA announced the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia will not be played next September, after sponsors suddenly pulled funding to focus investment in youth sports. The event would have been the leadoff stop of LPGA’s Asian Fall Swing.
END QUOTE I
“This one’s a lot sweeter. To go back-to-back – I really can’t even put it into words. When you look back at history, it’s incredible. It really is. I really can’t even put words to it. To win on two different styles of golf courses … Shinnecock plays incredibly tough, and you knew that going in even par was going to be a really good score. It turned out it was almost impossible to shoot even.”
– Brooks Koepka
END QUOTE II
“It’s easy to just look at (Nos.) 16, 18, where I had chances, because that is essentially what it comes down to. But I made so many good putts today. … Yeah, but I wanted 62.”
– Tommy Fleetwood