Koepka battles his way to the top
June 19, 2017
By Sean Martin and Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
ERIN, Wis. – Welcome to the Monday Finish, where we’re still digging out of Erin Hills’ famous fescue. We’ve freed ourselves from the thick stuff long enough to give you a deep look at Brooks Koepka’s dominant victory at Erin Hills.
1. The plethora of low scores at this U.S. Open drew the consternation of those who like their fairways narrow and their rough thick. This definitely wasn’t Ben Hogan’s U.S. Open.
But if you’re from the camp that thinks par, like age, is just a number, then you likely considered this U.S. Open a success. A dramatic finish ended with a deserving champion.
The debate over an appropriate winning score at the U.S. Open truly is a par-tisan debate (excuse the pun), with passionate voices firmly entrenched on each side.
Some think a 16-under-par winning score at their national championship is an abomination. Others say that par alone is not the judge of a suitable test.
I lean toward the latter perspective. Would this really have been a better championship if the USGA had converted two par-5s into long par-4s? PGA TOUR players are always going to stray farther from par when there are more par-5s. This was the first par-72 to host a U.S. Open since 1992.
Erin Hills’ wide fairways allowed players to attack the golf course. Koepka displayed impressive prowess from the tee, averaging 322.1 yards while missing just 10 fairways for the week. We got to watch a player win the golf tournament, instead of seeing someone lose it.
A golf course that allows players to be aggressive, while still penalizing wayward shots, usually creates the best theater. It’s why we so often see an exciting finish to tournaments like THE PLAYERS Championship and the Masters.
It should be remembered, too, that the weather didn’t come to the course’s defense until the final round. There’s nothing the USGA can do about that.
Frustrated traditionalists should rejoice, though, because the lineup of upcoming U.S. Open venues includes classic courses like Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, The Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club and Pinehurst No. 2.
2. Koepka’s path to the PGA TOUR and ultimately a major victory wasn’t a straight line – which should give hope to all players battling away on different tours around the world. The American plied his trade on the European Challenge Tour, where he won four times before jumping up to the main European Tour. He won events in Spain, Scotland, Italy and Turkey before earning his first PGA TOUR victory at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s also won in Japan after claiming last year’s Dunlop Phoenix. His game truly does travel.
He started to shift back to the States during the 2013-14 season, when he was able to accumulate enough non-member FedExCup points for 2014-15. He finished 24th in the FedExCup after winning in Phoenix, and was 35th last season. Now he has extended his TOUR status another five years with the U.S. Open win. So to all those players battling away on the Web.com Tour or the MacKenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada or PGA TOUR Latinoamerica or over in Europe, Asia or Australia… there is always much hope. A major championship could well be in the future.
Brooks Koepka’s journey around the world
3. Hideki Matsuyama shot the low score in two of the four rounds at Erin Hills, but it wasn’t enough to catch Koepka. Matsuyama was 13 under par in the second and fourth rounds. His 7-under 65 matched Chez Reavie for Friday’s low round, and his 66 was Sunday’s best. Matsuyama shot 74 and 71 in the other two rounds, though.
“I learned that I have to put four good rounds together,” said Matsuyama, who moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup. “I played two good rounds, but it wasn’t enough.”
The finish was another strong showing for Matsuyama in the majors. He has finished 11th or better in the past three majors (T4, 2016 PGA; T11, 2017 Masters; T2, 2017 U.S. Open). Like many of the players who are consistent contenders in the Grand Slam events, Matsuyama is known for his excellent ball-striking. He’s ninth in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and 21st in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green. Here’s how he ranks in proximity to the hole from various distance intervals:
125-150 yards: 11th (20 feet, 6 inches)
150-175 yards: 7th (24’, 3”)
175-200 yards: 6th (29’, 2”)
More than 200 yards: 16th (47’, 2”)
The finish also moved Matsuyama to a career-best No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, the highest ranking ever for a player from Japan. The 25-year-old also sits atop the International Team’s rankings for the upcoming Presidents Cup, which will be held Sept. 26-Oct. 1 at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey. This will be his third Presidents Cup appearance.
4. Perhaps the biggest surprise on Sunday was the play of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. The pair looked primed for a breakthrough major victory. Thomas was quickly out of the mix after three early bogeys, but Fowler hung reasonably tough until the early stages of the back nine. He just couldn’t hit the gas.
It marks the second straight major Fowler has been within two of the lead after 54 holes but failed to be a factor in the result. This was his fifth top-5 in a major. Perhaps he only needs to talk to his Zurich Classic teammate Jason Day about dealing with near-misses. Day had nine top-10 finishes in majors before winning one. So Fowler most certainly has time. Phil Mickelson didn’t get his major winning ways underway to well into his 30s. We have now had seven first-time major winners in a row so the trend is there for them to be part of at next month’s Open Championship.
5. Brian Harman was dominant as a junior golfer. His impressive resume in high school included the 2003 U.S. Junior Amateur. He also represented the United States in the Walker Cup before his freshman year of college, a feat later accomplished by Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. Harman played on both the 2005 and 2009 Walker Cup teams, becoming the rare player in the past two decades to play on two teams in the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.
“He hit every shot perfect. He was just a stud ball-striker when he came in. I just remember him always hitting flagsticks in practice rounds,” said his former Georgia teammate, Kevin Kisner.
Harman is now 30 and having the best year of his career. His runner-up finish at the U.S. Open moved him to 10th in the FedExCup and ninth in the U.S. Team’s Presidents Cup standings. Harman has finished in the top 10 in three of his past five starts, including his victory over FedExCup leader Dustin Johnson at the Wells Fargo Championship. Harman has risen more than 100 spots in the world ranking since the start of the year, now sitting at a career-best 27th.
“When I was a young junior golfer, I definitely perceived myself contending in majors,” Harman said Sunday. “Not that I'm an old man by any means, but I'm 30. So for me, I feel like I am trying to make up for some time lost. I don't know why. I don't know why I feel that way, but that's just kind of the way I feel.”
He may be doing that now.
1. Koepka’s 16-under 272 tied Rory McIlroy’s record for low score (in relation to par) in a U.S. Open. McIlroy set the record in his dominant win in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. Erin Hills played to a par 72 while Congressional played to a par 71. All four major championships have now had scoring records either broken or tied in the last few years. Jordan Spieth tied the Masters’ scoring record when he shot 18-under 270 in 2015. Jason Day finished 20 under at the 2015 PGA Championship, setting the record for relation to par at any major. Henrik Stenson matched that with his 20-under total last year in Troon, a win that included the second final-round 63 for a major winner. Now Koepka tied the U.S. Open mark. It appears the modern golfer is very good.
2. Koepka’s victory came with an impressive display of distance and accuracy. He hit 49 of 56 fairways to rank fourth in the field and then hit 62 of 72 greens to lead the field. His driving distance of 322.10 ranked seventh. He managed to keep the big numbers off the card with bogey being his worst score of the week.
3. In terms of Strokes Gained, Koepka was on fire. He ranked first in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, besting the field average by 8.466 strokes, including being 3.030 strokes better on Sunday. He also ranked third in SG: Off-the-Tee (5.379), SG: Putting (7.110) and SG: Tee-to-Green (13.442).
4. Thomas might not have won the event but he did enter history with his third-round 9-under 63. Thomas became the 31st player to shoot 63 in a major championship but his was a record in relation to par at a U.S. Open. Johnny Miller (-8), Jack Nicklaus (-7), Tom Weiskopf (-7) and Vijay Singh (-7) had previously done it in America’s national championship. Not bad in a year where he became just the eighth player to shoot a 59 on the PGA TOUR. We’ve now seen four 63s in the past four majors (Thomas, 2017 U.S. Open; Robert Streb, 2016 PGA; Stenson and Phil Mickelson, 2016 Open Championship).
5. Koepka’s win rockets him to fifth in the FedExCup standings and Presidents Cup team standings. Matsuyama jumps to second in the FedExCup, and atop the International Team’s Presidents Cup standings. Harman moved to 10th in the Presidents Cup and ninth in the U.S. Team’s Presidents Cup standings. PGA TOUR rookie Xander Schauffele rode his T5 finish to move inside the all-important FedExCup top 125 at 108th, while fellow first-year player Trey Mullinax jumped up to 123rd courtesy of his T9 finish.
TOP 3 VIDEOS
1. Relive the top shots from an exciting U.S. Open here:
2. Here’s the highlights from the final round:
3. And then there was this stylish finish to Thomas’ record-breaking 63. Only a handful of people in the world could hit that shot: