VICTORY at ERIN HILLS
ERIN, WI. The cliché major championships are won in the final nine holes is stated many, many times and for good reason. The mounting pressure and the need to provide top tier shotmaking along with steady nerves in making the crucial putts when called upon is an absolute necessity.
Brooks Koepka is one of the young stars on the PGA Tour and he took a major step forward in separating himself from his other talented peers in winning the US Open at Erin Hills with top tier play during the crucial middle portion of Sunday’s back nine.
Koepka fired a final round five-under-par 67 and a 272 total — winning by four strokes over Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Brian Harman but the contest was much tighter for the bulk of the final round.
The 27-year-old Floridian tied 2011 US Open winner Rory McIlroy’s mark of most-under-par with a 16-under-par figure for 72 holes. After making a lone bogey at the par-4 10th hole the one-stroke lead he earned after birdieing the par-4 8th was gone. Tied with eight holes to play Koepka buckled down with key saving par putts at the 12th and 13th holes. The latter coming from ten feet. Propelled by his wherewithal to hold his position Koepka would birdie the 14th, 15th and 16th holes in succession to cement the victory.
How good was his play at Erin Hills? The 10th-ranked player in the world only missed ten greens the entire week and only one — that’s right — just one — in the final round. Unlike the docile conditions the field faced on Saturday’s 3rd round — the final round encountered a stiff and steady 15-20 mph wind from the northwest.
Koepka showed he was up to the task on Sunday — birdieing the first two holes and the race for the trophy was clearly in motion. US Open final round pressure was clearly in evidence for many in the field but it was Koepka who displayed a tenacity to keep his poise and deliver one solid shot after another.
For many golf fans the name Brooks Koepka may not be as familiar as such other younger stars as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler but those who play professional golf they are most certainly well aware of what Koepka has achieved even before the US Open commenced. At last year’s Ryder Cup Matches at Hazeltine National he was able to win three times in the four matches he played. His performance was impressive although Koepka admitted afterwards the nervousness he endured was beyond anything he had ever experienced previously when playing. Graeme McDowell, the 2011 US Open winner, said Koepka was the most underrated American player in the world and how that would soon change.
After hitting the par-4 12th in the regulation stroke Koepka’s downhill birdie putt from 15-feet was aggressive and quite fortunate in hitting the hole to slow it pace. Facing a five-footer his stroke was certain as the ball disappeared into the cup. At the par-3 13th Koepka would miss his only green of the day and after a fairly good chip shot was left with a ten-foot par putt. Again — the stroke was pure and center-cut into the hole.
Spurred on by his wherewithal to hold steady Koepka would birdie the next three holes — the most impressive coming at the most difficult hole in the final round — the short but devilish par-4 15th. For good measure the birdie at the par-3 16th was icing on the cake allowing Brooks to play the final two holes as an extended curtain call.
Koepka’s path to the PGA Tour took a far different path than many playing golf at the highest level. He did experience success at the collegiate level at Florida State but he showed a real resilience in heading overseas to play the Challenge Tour and then the European circuit. Koepka’s game was successful in adapting to the various climatic and wind conditions in playing golf globally. His path was a far different type than many American top players who forego such demands and opt to play a predictable dosage of finely prepared courses here in the States.
The most enduring element Koepka showed at Erin Hills was his methodical nature in remaining in the moment with each shot. His pace throughout the round stayed the same — his focus never deviated — his shotmaking nearly perfect whenever the situation was called upon.
Koepka’s good friend and Florida neighbor Dustin Johnson showed Brooks the path in winning last year’s US Open at Oakmont. For Koepka the victory at Erin Hills could well prove to be the springboard for future major victories. His name has often been mispronounced by first tee starters but those days are now in the rear view mirror. Brooks Koepka won’t be forgotten anytime soon.