Erin, Wisconsin – The 117th U.S Open at Erin Hills had a bit of everything – The drama of an aging legend still looking to complete the grand slam that ended up missing the event because of his daughter’s high school graduation, fescue rough that early in the week had to be measured in feet not inches, weather that didn’t quite cooperate with the planned firm and fast links-like playing surface, and by Friday evening the top 3 players (and 6 of the top 10) on the planet were all trunk slammin. Also, a record tying 63 (or breaking – whichever way you choose to look at it) was shot on Saturday by Justin Thomas. Oh, and how could I forget, a tragic blimp crash as well. As a matter of fact the USGA media staff were handing us memos in the press room stating their non-involvment before the privately owned midwest Hindenburg even made touch down on farmland next to the golf course.
At 7,800 yards, the thought was a brutish linksy type layout with it’s usual windy conditions would punish the competitors in typical blue blazer/Far Hills, N.J style, but when mother nature had other plans – dumping copious amounts of rain early in the week, the course turned into a massive dart board. When you give the best players in the world, soft playing conditions with very little wind (until Sunday) they go low. And go low they (many of them) did.
Once the dust cleared from all of the above and the final round began on Sunday, it was a certainty that someone would capture their first major (the top 16 on the leaderboard at Erin Hills were all non-major winners).
By the back nine on Sunday, the competition had whittled the challengers down to four players: Brian Harman (the 54 hole leader), Brooks Koepka (who was leading the field in Greens Hit in Regulation), the Uk’s Tommy Fleetwood and Japanese superstar and World no.4 Hideki Matsuyama. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler struggled all day and never seriously mounted a charge. Matsuyama, who was the hottest player on the course finished an hour before the leaders with a final round 66 to post 12 under par in the clubhouse. Tommy Fleetwood, the slight Englishman playing with Koepka, just couldn’t match the horsepower and precision being displayed by the 27 year old native of the 561 area code. The diminutive Harman lasted the longest in the challenger role, but faltered on the back nine starting with his bogey on the short par 4 twelfth.
Eventually Koepka just outlasted the field with his flawless ball striking, his only bogey was a 3 putt on the 10th. He pulled away in vintage business-like Tiger Woods fashion. After a great up and down save at the 13th, he rattled off 3 straight birdies to grab command for good. Koepka’s clutch bunker shot at the short par 4 – 15th was mighty impressive, and when he rolled in another at the 16th, it was time to start engraving the trophy. Koepka’s four shot victory is the first major of his young career, his final round 67 to reach 16 under par was the stuff that legends are made of. The 272 total score ties four players – Nicklaus, Janzen, Woods and Jim Furyk for the third lowest total in U.S Open history. Only McIlroy’s 268 at Congressional (2011) and Martin Kaymer’s 271 total at Pinehurst (2014) are lower. Koepka’s -16 score in relation to par ties McIlroy’s mark from 2011.
Koepka, who is the first ever Florida born U.S Open Champion reflected afterward:”The par save on 13, that built some confidence,” Koepka said. “That was kind of the changing point of the round for me.”
This year’s U.S Open also was the first time in the history of the championship that any player other than the winner finished double digits under par, 7 players managed the feat at Erin Hills:
The design collaboration of Hurdzan/Fry/Whitten on central Wisconsin farmland is only 11 years old, and similar to taking the U.S Open in 2015 to Chambers Bay, this was another big gamble by Mike Davis and the USGA. To bring America’s National Championship to a venue with zero history showed a less than typical conservative mindset from the folks of Far Hills, N.J. Given the conditions, the course held up fine, and likely will return to a future Open as par 71 scorecard.
Brooks Koepka’s key stats for the week:
62 of 72 Greens in Regulation = 1st
49 of 56 Fairways Hit = T4
322.1 Driving Distance = 7th
21 Birdies = T2
1.17 Putts Per Hole = T51
*check out our blog section for images from our coverage from Erin Hills