PUT IT IN THE BROOKS
Koepka ties lowest 72-hole Open score to claim 1st major
ERIN, Wis. — In defense of his 2016 U.S. Open title, Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut this week. But when Johnson left Erin Hills Friday, he apparently was not finished having an impact on this U.S. Open.
Johnson, whose flatline personality borders on catatonic at times, would never be mistaken as a motivational speaker. Yet there he was on Saturday night calling his pal Brooks Koepka to give him a pep talk in advance of Sunday’s final round.
Koepka entered the day one shot out of the lead and playing in the second-to-last pairing, and Johnson called to tell him he was good enough to win his first career major championship — the same way Johnson had done it a year ago at Oakmont.
“Dustin actually called me and told me, ‘Just stay patient, just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to win the thing,’ ’’ Koepka said after storming to a four-shot victory.
Asked to expand on the conversation he had with Johnson, Koepka laughed and said, “Yeah, I mean there’s probably not that much that’s that interesting to be honest. It was a long phone call. For us it was like two minutes. It wasn’t much.’’
It was, apparently, more than enough.
With most of his closest competitors somewhat running in place in the final round, Koepka pinned the gas pedal to the floor on the back nine and left everyone else wandering aimlessly in the waist-high fescue grass lining the fairways.
Koepka, who entered the week with only one career PGA Tour win, turned a tight final round — with Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas and a late charge from Hideki Matsuyama all in the mix at different parts of the day — into a runaway boat race.
The 27-year-old who went to Florida State and lives in South Florida, became the seventh consecutive major championship winner to become a first-time major winner.
Koepka separated himself from the field with birdies on 14, 15 and 16, finished 16-under par after shooting a 5-under 67 Sunday. The 16-under score tied Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open record set in 2011 at Congressional.
“He birdied 14, 15, 16, and that was kind of lights out,’’ Harman said. “You’ve got to tip your cap: He went and won the golf tournament on the back nine.’’
Fleetwood, who was paired with Koepka, called his playing partner’s performance “brilliant down the stretch.’’
“He wasn’t missing shots from 13 onwards,’’ Fleetwood said. “He just cruised and he played great. It was very good to watch.’’
Harman, who took a one-shot lead into the day and shot an evenpar 72, finished tied for second at 12-under with Matsuyama, the No. 4 ranked player in the world and bidding to become the first Japanese player to win a major.
Matsuyama shot a 6-under-par 66 to post 12-under as the leader in the clubhouse at a time when Koepka was 13-under. Then Koepka went on his back-nine birdie barrage to put the tournament to bed.
Fleetwood, a 26-year-old Brit, shot 72 and finished 11-under.
Fowler, who finished tied for fifth for his sixth career top-5 finish in a major, to date has not shown the ability to get himself over the finish line in a major. He shot 72 to finish 10-under and never made a true charge. PGA Tour rookie Xander Schauffele and Bill Haas also finished at 10-under.
This day, though, was all about Koepka from start to finish. He was the best player on the course all day. He looked utterly unflappable along the way.
“I felt like I’ve underachieved,’’ Koepka said. “I’d won once on the PGA Tour, once on the European Tour and I felt like I put myself in contention so many times. I felt like I just never fully came together. I put myself in some good chances over the majors over the last few years and never really quite came through.
“I just felt like I should be winning more … and I just couldn’t stand the fact that I’d only won once.’’
THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES: Hideki Matsuyama reacts after an errant shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open. Brooks Koepka kisses the trophy (inset) after winning his first major title with a four-stroke victory.