Brooks Koepka won at the easiest U.S. Open course in history. So what?
Yes, Erin Hills played historically easy this week, making the numbers on the scoreboard look more like the Pebble Beach Pro-Am rather the U.S. Open. Yes, the wind that was supposed to wreak havoc in Sunday’s round ended up being as much of a factor as the fescue that was separated by 60 yards of fairway. Yes, there were more than three times as many players in double-digit red numbers than in all the previous 116 Opens combined. It’s all true. And none of it takes anything away from 2017 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka.
There’s no asterisk by Koepka’s name because he happened to win the easiest Open ever. One hundred and fifty-five other men played the same course in the same conditions with the same pressure and the same trophy at stake and nobody came within three strokes of Koepka, who doubled his PGA tournament win total with his victory on Sunday.
After all, if the course was so easy, why did nobody else in the final four groups shoot under par? Why did those seven golfers combine for a +15? (Koepka shot a 5-under par 67.) And why, when Koepka was flooring the gas pedal on the back nine, was every other contender spinning out of control?
Koepka hit a mind-boggling 62 greens in regulation over the week (86%) and 17 of 18 in the final round. Forget an Open course; those would be remarkable numbers if the dude came to your muni and teed it up from the whites. He never looked uncomfortable on Sunday, hitting with the accuracy of a Swiss watch and the power of a Swiss backhand (Stan Wawrinka’s to be specific). He made one bad swing and how he recovered won him the tournament. Koepka pushed his tee shot at the par-3 13th and left himself with a tricky up-and-down for par.
The chip came up short and the co-leader was faced with a nasty 10-foot par putt. Miss and he’d be looking up at Brian Harman on the leaderboard. Make it and he’d stay at 13-under in the lead. He drained it — there was never really a doubt — and a moment later Harman missed his own knee-knocking par putt. Two-shot swing. Forty-five minutes later, the lead was four and the most bunched-up U.S. Open in recent memory turned into a runaway.
Is this the start of something big for Koepka or will he be more in the Jason Dufner or Jimmy Walker category of major champions (e.g. the guys who can and will contend but would surprise nobody if their first major was their last)? Length and a wedge game have helped Dustin Johnson become the best golfer in the world, so it’s out there. And with some of the game’s current greats having some relative struggles, can Koepka take advantage and join that group of Spieth, McIlroy, Day and his good friend Johnson?
Strokes aside, the biggest thing going for Koepka is how he’s shown he can handle the pressure. His first taste of the spotlight was at last year’s Ryder Cup where he went 3-1 and had a 5&4 singles win over Danny Willett that was the biggest of the day. That attitude showed up in Wisconsin.
How cool was he in the course of winning a tournament that changes his life forever? When Koepka tapped in his par putt on No. 18, you might have thought he was finishing up a round three hours before the leaders. He slowly took off his hat, gave a little dap to his caddie and shook Tommy Fleetwood’s hand like he’d come in T37. It wasn’t until his cart ride to the scoring house that the magnitude of the moment seemed to hit him.
Then again, Erin Hills was the perfect setup for Koepka, as he acknowledged in his presser. A let-er-rip course with wide fairways and generous approach angles is tailor made for such a player (nobody tell DJ). Koepka is unlikely to find such conditions on any major course in the near future. He doesn’t need to though. He got one this weekend and played the tournament of his life.
In most years, the U.S. Open champion is the one who survives. This year it went to the golfer who thrived. Erin Hills was there for the taking and no one took advantage better than Brooks Koepka.