ERIN, Wis. — Brooks Koepka has never feared the unknown. Traveling the world over during his foray into professional golf on the European Tour and its developmental circuit, the former Florida State All-American visited many lands, from Kenya to Kazakhstan, from Spain to Scotland, from South Africa to Shanghai. It was an unconventional route to golf’s biggest stages but the adventurous soul loved it.
So mammoth, mysterious Erin Hills, just 11 years old and basically unfamiliar to all 156 players that came to Wisconsin for the 117th edition of the U.S. Open, wasn’t going to rattle the muscular Floridian, no matter how much fescue, distance and sharp edges the course can dish out. The easy-going Koepka, 27, just comfortably settled in and unleashed his eye-opening power to get the better of Erin Hills and won the national championship on Sunday in record fashion.
With a final round, 5-under-par 67, Koepka finished at 16 under and four shots clear of 54-hole leader Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama. With rounds of 67-70-68-67, Koepka equaled the scoring record in relation to par set by Rory McIlroy in 2011 at Congressional Country Club just outside the nation’s capital. "It hasn't sunk in, obviously, and probably won't for a few days. But that's probably one of the coolest things I've ever experienced and to do it on Father's Day, it's pretty neat," Koepka said. "I didn't exactly get my dad a card, so this works."
While he hit 350-yard drives with his driver and 3-wood, one of his best weapons was patience. Koepka got a Saturday night call from defending champion Dustin Johnson, his frequent workout and playing partner who had missed the cut. It was a long call for the two — about two minutes, Koepka said with a laugh. But it was an important 120 seconds. "He just said a few things, and just stay patient. And I'll win if I stay patient and just keep doing what I'm doing," Koepka said.
Koepka was one of 16 players within six shots of the lead with 18 to play. He began his round with two birdies, missed just one green in regulation and turned the wide-open U.S. Open into a one-man show with three consecutive birdies on the back nine starting on the 14th, each punctuated by a fist pump.
He became the seventh consecutive first-timer to win a major, adding to the list of Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia. He’ll move from his present rank of No. 22 in the official world rankings into the top 12. And he banked $2.16 million. "I played really solid from the moment we got here on Monday and all the way through until today," he said. "The ball-striking was pretty solid. It had to be today. And I got hot with the putter there for a little bit today and all week. So all around my game is pretty solid and I couldn't be happier."
Harman, who began the day with a one-shot lead, was tied for the lead with seven holes to play but couldn’t keep up with Koepka and finished with a 72. Matsuyama came storming home with a 66, the lowest round of the day. "Bites a little bit right now. But Brooks played so well today," Harman said. "I don't believe in moral victories. I had an opportunity today and I didn't get it done. But at the same time, I don't feel as though I lost a golf tournament. I think Brooks went out and won the tournament." Tommy Fleetwood (72) finished in solo fourth.
In a tie for fifth at 10 under were Rickie Fowler (72), Bill Haas (69) and Xander Schauffele (69). Charley Hoffman (71) finished solo eighth at 9 under. The win was Koepka’s second on the PGA Tour but his peers will be the first to tell you that many more are to come. His talent is unquestioned, his power admired, and his laid-back demeanor envied by many. "He's so subdued. He's just really, really chilled out," said his caddie, Ricky Elliot. "He's so unflappable, he could almost do with a little bit of a kick in the ass because sometimes it's like, 'Are you awake yet?' But despite his mean face he's as calm as it gets.
"He came through Europe but he is an American so I know he wanted to win on his home turf. He's only done it once so to win his national open, I think that'll take a while to sink in. He might even smile." Golf wasn’t Koepka’s favorite sport growing up — baseball was his first passion, but he moved on from the game when he couldn’t hit for power. That was never a problem in golf and he overpowered Erin Hills despite the course playing the longest in tournament history. Koepka wasn’t alone in clobbering Erin Hills.
While thumping wind made its first appearance of the week in the final round, it stayed around for just four hours of play. With the course’s best defense non-existent, the narrative of par being your friend in a U.S. Open was flipped on its head.
The cut, in relation to par, came at a tournament-tying low of 1 over. In the first round, 44 players broke par, a tournament record for the opening session. On day 2, 46 players – one shy of the record for the second round – were in red numbers. In the third round, 32 of the 68 players left in the field broke par – another tournament record. Yet another record fell in the third round when Justin Thomas shot 9-under-par 63, the lowest score in relation to par. It was the 30th 63 in a major championship. In all there were a record 138 subpar rounds.
Players were delighted in the sticker-shock tone of the tournament, saying it was playing more like a regular PGA Tour event where birdies are plentiful. "Yeah, 12 under, I’d have about a 10-shot leads in most Opens," Harman said after posting 67-70-67 the first three rounds.
Through it all Koepka kept his measured swagger on a roll and never got ahead of himself. Although he had won four times on the developmental tour, once on the European Tour in the 2014 Turkish Airlines, once on the PGA Tour at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open and once on the Japan Tour in the 2016 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament, he felt he had underachieved. "I felt like I should be winning more," he said.
His play this past fall in the Ryder Cup when the U.S. whipped Europe, where he said he had never felt more pressure, helped him immensely. Wearing the red, white and blue, he learned he had to take the boring approach of one shot at a time and remain in the present. It helped him on Sunday.
As did all those trips to faraway places, where eating was an adventure – don’t ask him about the time he dined on horse meat – and traveling was a chore. He’d like to forget the expected 20-minute bus trip to a hotel in Africa that took three hours. They were journeys he’ll never forget.
"To get to travel the world at 22, 21 years old, and do what you do for a living is pretty neat," he said. "I love traveling. I'll go anywhere. And some of the places we went to were pretty neat. And to go over there, I think it helped me grow up a little bit and really figure out that, hey, play golf, get it done, and then you can really take this somewhere." It took him to the U.S. Open trophy.
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