2017-06-18 21:49:03
Brooks Koepka Wins U.S. Open for His First Major Title

21:49, June 18 62 0

ERIN, Wis. — Fred Couples was 32 years old when he won the Masters for his first, and only, major. Tom Kite was 10 years older when he won the 1992 United States Open. Couples and Kite ended up in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but if they played today, they would be in danger of being left behind before they got started.

Brooks Koepka went into this United States Open, his fifth, with one PGA Tour victory and one European Tour title. At 27, he was, in his mind, an underachiever.

It took him six years — an eternity in a sport that has been ruled by boy kings like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — but on Sunday, Koepka finally won the major title that he has been chasing since he turned professional.

Koepka broke away from a lead pack that at one time in the final round included the third-round leader Brian Harman and the Englishman Tommy Fleetwood. Koepka’s five-under-par 67 left him at 16-under, four strokes ahead of Harman and a charging Hideki Matsuyama.

Koepka, whose 16-under tied Rory McIlroy for the U.S. Open record for total score under par, became the seventh consecutive first-time winner in the men’s majors — and, by a few months, the youngest in that span.

“With all his peers winning that were younger than him, 27’s not that old, but he thinks he should be winning every week,” Koepka’s caddie, Rickie Elliott, said. “The standard’s so great out here. He believed he was as good as most of the lads, he just wasn’t winning.”

The top 16 players heading into Sunday’s final round ran the gamut from the 21-year-old Si Woo Kim to the 40-year-old Charley Hoffman. They spanned the globe from the United States to South Korea. And their résumés ranged from that of Harman, who missed the cut in five of his previous seven majors to that of Rickie Fowler, who recorded top-five finishes in all four majors in 2014.

For all their contrasts, they had one thing in common: None had won a major.

The course, too, was gracing the big stage for the first time. Erin Hills, situated 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee and carved out of rolling pastureland, was a first-time Open venue. On Sunday, after three days of benign playing conditions, the wind kicked up and turned the nearly 8,000-yard layout into a bucking mule.

Spieth, the 2015 Open champion, was in the fifth of the 34 twosomes to tee off, and he tamed a course buffeted by 30 mile-per-hour winds with a three-under 69, his best round of the week by two strokes, to finish at one-over.

By the end of his round, the strongest gusts were gone, replaced by winds that Spieth described as “light and variable,” making it doubtful that his 69 would stand as the low round of the day (Matt Kuchar would shoot a 68 and Matsuyama a 66).

Spieth was walking off the tee box after hitting his drive on the 18th hole when a fan shouted, “Hey, Jordan, who you got, J.T. or Rickie?” He was referring to Justin Thomas, one of Spieth’s closest friends in golf dating back to their teenage years, and Fowler, who has become Spieth’s regular spring break vacation buddy.

“It wouldn’t be any surprise if either one of them comes out guns blazing and wins,” said Spieth of Thomas, who has three victories this season, and Fowler, who has one.

Thomas began the day one stroke off the lead, held by Harman, and one stroke ahead of the ninth-ranked Fowler, whose 10 career runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour (to go with four victories) speak to his room for improvement as a closer. He shot even par Sunday to tie for fifth at 10-under.

While Fowler had personal history to overcome, Thomas, who carded a third-round 63, carried the baggage that is U.S. Open history. Twice before in the tournament, both in 1980, players posted 63s in one of the first three rounds. Those players, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, followed their first-round 63s with a 71 and a 75, respectively.

Thomas parred the 605-yard par-5 first hole, which he had birdied two of the previous three rounds, and bogeyed three of the next four holes. He never found the extra gear he had used to cruise around the course on Saturday. He settled for a 75 to finish tied for ninth at eight-under.

Like Thomas, Fowler, Matsuyama and almost every other tour player in his twenties, Koepka was drawn to golf by the magnet that was Tiger Woods.

“It was pretty cool to watch Tiger win, I’m not going to lie,” Koepka said Saturday night, adding, “That’s kind of why I’m playing.”

Koepka made his debut in the Ryder Cup last fall and compiled a record of 3-1-0. The pressure that came with playing in his sport’s premier team event prepared him for the nerves that he faced while contending for a major title on the back nine on Sunday.

Wisconsin’s native son, Steve Stricker, who closed with a 69 to finish five-under, planned to return to the course after signing his scorecard. As the American captain of this year’s Presidents Cup team, Stricker, 50, had a vested interest in how Koepka, Harman, Fowler — and even Japan’s Matsuyama, a lock for the International squad — finished.

Stricker already had seen enough this week to feel good about where the game is headed. “These guys just take on everything with no fear,” he said, adding, “They play very aggressively. And it’s fun to watch.”