Brooks Koepka holds his nerve in major style to land the US Open title
Major championships are now the domain of golf’s pretenders. Seven in a row have been claimed by first-time champions, with the conclusion to the 117th US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin emerging into a test of nerve for Brooks Koepka. The 27-year-old from Florida became the latest player to deliver on earlier and widely recognised promise.
Koepka – like Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia – is a bridesmaid no more. Even fresh, testing weather conditions for day four and the weight of history could not halt the outstanding American. Three birdies in a row from the 14th provided a hammer blow to those in pursuit.
Of the players who fell short, perhaps Tommy Fleetwood has the most cause to be upbeat. The Englishman continues a tremendous 2017, with aspirations of glory at next month’s Open Championship perfectly realistic. This was, after all, his first time in major contention.
Rickie Fowler’s challenge stumbled on the back nine while Brian Harman, who had hitherto dropped only two shots in the whole tournament, was to run out of putting form when posting bogeys at the 12th and 13th.
Koepka’s triumph had a foundation on the greens. A birdie putt from 41ft at the 8th played a key part in reaching the turn in 33. By the time he took to the penultimate hole, he was 16 under par. His lead was an unassailable four.
Hideki Matsuyama came to grips with this ferocious battle immediately, embarking on a stirring chase. The man seeking to become Japan’s first major champion posted a 66 for a 12-under-par total; his tilt at the top comes with the context of him starting this tournament in 74 shots. At that point he was 82nd.
Matsuyama will rue one shot in his final round. His drive at the tricky 15th was pulled horribly into dense rough, from where he could only chip out sideways. The bogey which ensued proved damaging, though he should have the consolation of a rise to No2 in the world rankings on Mondaymorning. Matsuyama played the closing three holes in two under par despite being aware one more bad time ruling would result in him being penalised a stroke.
Justin Thomas encountered the problems associated with backing up a record-breaking performance. He entered folklore on Saturday with the 63 which represented the lowest score to par in US Open history. Within five holes of his final round, the 26-year-old was three-over par. This back-peddling inevitably left him with too much to do as others on the leaderboard collected early shots. So continues an ominous trend in Thomas’s career; when things start to go wrong, he is not particularly adept at stemming the flow.
Eddie Pepperell earned a top-20 placing but was happier at outscoring his playing partner, García, by a shot. The pair finished and five- and four-under respectively having started the final round level. “Everyone talks about Tiger Woods but my hero was Sergio,” said Pepperell. “To have beaten him is a nice feeling.”
Given the list of illustrious names who could not survive past 36 holes here, special credit is due to Scottie Scheffler. The 20-year-old from Dallas finished as the leading amateur on the highly respectable 72-hole aggregate of one-under.
As Scheffler continues his career, confidence clearly won’t be a problem. “I was trying to compete and see if I could win the golf tournament,” he said. “I think it would be pretty cool winning the US Open as an amateur and that was my goal coming in. As the week went on, coming into today I kind of realised I didn’t really have a shot any more but I still wanted to play my best golf and see what I could do.”
Lee Westwood’s 76 perhaps impacted on post-round sentiment but the Englishman made it clear he would be in no hurry to return to Erin Hills. “This wouldn’t be my favourite US Open venue,” he admitted. “I prefer when they play the traditional golf courses. The two new ones they have played recently [Chambers Bay and Erin Hills] aren’t as good as the older style courses like Shinnecock, Winged Foot, Oakmont and Congressional. There are few good ones coming up over the next few years so I am looking forward to those.” First, Westwood will set his sights on the Open in the more familiar surroundings of Royal Birkdale next month.
Jordan Spieth instead offered praise towards the United States Golf Association’s management of this major. The 2015 champion signed off with a 69 for a total of one-over par before acknowledging inevitable pressure as felt by the USGA on account of US Open controversies of recent times. “I was very, very impressed at the job the USGA did this week,” said Spieth. “I think they did a fantastic job.
“Chambers Bay was tough with the greens and then last year had a tough Sunday. I thought that the USGA did a phenomenal job this week of allowing the golf course to be what it is and play the way it’s supposed to play.
“Not trying to do anything to hold any kind of standard. Instead, create an environment where if you play well, you can score, and if you don’t, then it can go the other way.
“There was no unfairness whatsoever. I thought the USGA did a fantastic job coming back this year, and I know that they really wanted to.
“It’s tough going to two new venues in three years that they’ve never used before. That’s a difficult thing to do. I hate to say it’s surprising, but I thought it was really well done.”
Spieth was vague regarding his plans in advance of the Open Championship, raising the possibility he might spend some of his competitive build-up time in Ireland or Scotland. When he last won a major, in June of 2015, golf’s biggest events seemed the domain of only a few players. How times have so swiftly changed.