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Steady Koepka Notches an Historic Double

Article by Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post

Brooks Koepka has never been a student of golf history but he has made himself a part of the game’s long story now that he’s won his second consecutive U.S. Open, holding off Tommy Fleetwood’s Sunday 63 to win by one stroke at sunny Shinnecock Hills.

When Curtis Strange won his second U.S. Open in a row 29 years ago, he pointedly said, “Move over, Ben,” a reference to Ben Hogan being the last man to have won consecutive U.S. Open before him (1950 and 1951).

Koepka, as is his nature, let his game speak for him and when he’d put the finishing touches on a final-round 68 that was just good enough, there was an understandable familiarity to the trophy photos he posed for with the red, white and blue championship ribbon draped around his neck.

“It’s incredible,” said Koepka, who finished at 1-over-par 281. “I looked at all the names (on the trophy) a million times last year. To have my name there twice is incredible. To go back to back is extraordinary.”

For a player whose demeanor is as steady as a metronome, Koepka worked his way through multiple layers to win at Shinnecock Hills. He didn’t touch a golf club for three months earlier this year while he allowed a serious wrist injury to heal, forcing him to miss the Masters.

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka lurked in the background through the first two days while one of his best mates, Dustin Johnson, played like the No. 1 player in the world he is. When Johnson’s edge dulled on the weekend, Koepka kept doing what he does – hitting fairways and crisp iron shots and holing the kinds of putts that turn near misses into championships.

With Fleetwood in the clubhouse at 2-over par for the championship, Koepka went to the back nine with a one-stroke lead. Johnson was one behind and Masters champion Patrick Reed had forced himself into the mix on a golf course that was softer, fairer and significantly more benign than it had been 24 tumultuous hours earlier.

Though a birdie at the par-4 10th stretched Koepka’s lead to two, it was the bogey he made at the dangerous par-3 11th that felt like the decisive moment. He’d put himself in terrible position in the thick rough left of the green and his only option was to chop a low shot across the putting surface into a bunker.

From there, Koepka blasted out to 12 feet, while Johnson was 4 feet away, looking at being even if he could make his putt and if Koepka missed. But after Koepka drained his putt, Johnson missed.

In its own small way, it was reminiscent of the way Jordan Spieth turned the Open Championship around with a bogey at the 13th hole in the final round at Royal Birkdale last summer.

“From where we were, I would have taken double. We were in jail,” Koepka said.

He converted potential disaster into opportunity. A 6-foot par putt at 12 was big and another exceptional par save at the 14th, where he got up and down from 67 yards, kept Koepka rolling. His birdie at the 16th stretched his lead to two, giving him room to bogey the finishing hole.

“Once you see one (putt) go in it feels like the hole opens up,” Koepka said.

Fleetwood started the final round as an afterthought, six strokes off the lead.

Even after four early birdies, Fleetwood seemed in a remote orbit from the leaders. But when the Englishman and his flowing hair made four consecutive birdies midway through the back nine, he wasn’t just flirting with history. He had a serious chance to win the U.S. Open.

Koepka noticed.

“It was hard to miss,” Koepka said. “It was the lowest red number up there.”

As good as Fleetwood’s 7-under 63 was Sunday (he became the sixth player to shoot that number in the U.S. Open), he needed more.

Having finished more than two hours before Koepka, Fleetwood could only sit and watch and wonder if the 8-foot birdie putt he missed on the 18th green was going to be the one that haunted him.

“I wanted 62,” Fleetwood said.

Smelling birdie in the warm June air, Reed pounced on the opportunity making five birdies in his first seven holes. He bull-rushed his way into a share of the lead and for a time seemed poised to add the U.S. Open trophy to the green jacket he won in April.

Reed can be relentless when he senses an opening but as quickly as he flared into the storyline, his scoring went flat. Starting at the ninth, Reed made three bogeys in four holes and was playing catch-up again.

This U.S. Open will be remembered largely for how it veered wildly off course on a bizarre Saturday. What began softly under warm sunshine turned into chaos as the afternoon unfolded.

It began with Phil Mickelson’s antics on the 13th green when he intentionally putted his moving ball, setting off an inferno of howling about what he did, why he did it and whether he should have been disqualified.

Ultimately, Mickelson assessed a two-stroke penalty, made a 10 on the 13th hole, and forever dinged his public image. He suggested afterward he was surprised his actions were considered a breach of etiquette but the controversy swirled late into Saturday evening, prompting USGA CEO Mike Davis and John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director of championships and governance, to hold a press conference to address the issue.

It wasn’t the only issue of the day. Despite pre-tournament assurances that Shinnecock Hills would not become too dry and crusty, it became borderline unplayable in spots by late Saturday afternoon when the leaders were trying to finish. It was an avoidable situation but it wasn’t avoided.

“We want the U.S. Open to be tough but we saw some examples late in the day where well-executed shots were not being rewarded bit in some cases penalized,” Davis said.

The extreme change in course conditions Saturday reflected on the scoreboard when Tony Finau and Daniel Berger jumped from 11 strokes behind entering the third round to being in the final pairing on Sunday by virtue of the 66s they shot in the softer morning conditions. It changed the look, feel and eventual outcome of the championship.

The Saturday scenario led to an intentionally safer Sunday setup which, as a consequence, produced the flash low scores in the final round. The greens were watered Saturday evening and again on Sunday and their speeds were set at 11 on the Stimpmeter.

Additionally, pin positions were moderated and in at least two spots, hole positions were moved to avoid any potential problems late in the final round. The wind did not blow as strongly Sunday afternoon as it had the day before, which also dulled Shinnecock’s challenge.

“Everybody’s got to play the same course,” Koepka said (Saturday) probably should have been more like it was today.”

TaylorMade M3 Driver

Driver: TaylorMade M3 460 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 70TX

3 Wood: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80TX

Driving Iron: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3)
Shafts: Fujikura Pro 95 Tour Spec X-Flex

Irons: Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100

Titleist Vokey SM7 M Grind

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 (52-12F, 56-10S, 60-08M)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Scotty Cameron Tour Only T10 Select Newport 2

Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord (Midsize) with one wrap of 2-way tape and one wrap of masking tape

Republished with permission from Global Golf Post.