US OPEN, WHAT A WEEK!
America’s Brooks Koepka became only the seventh player in history to retain the US Open title after holding off the fastfinishing Tommy Fleetwood at the controversially set-up Shinnecock Hills last month.
A look back over the eventful week of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Twelve months ago, at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, the then 27-year-old American matched the record-equalling low score of 16 under par to take the title in dramatic fashion by four shots. Returning as defending champion, but with low expectations, following a wrist injury that had plagued the early part of the season, Koepka took a different approach at the challenging Shinnecock Hills.
Showing the kind of discipline and unflappability that so many of his more highly-touted rivals failed to display, Koepka calmly went about his business over the four very tough days of the tournament, defending when he needed to defend, and attacking with precision and poise when the moment demanded.
Brooks Koepka is widely-regarded as one of the new generation of ‘bomb and chip' type of players, who hit the ball miles and then hope to get up and down with a wedge. Koepka showed that he has a great deal more subtlety and versatility to his game than that. Finding fairway after fairway, often with irons, he found the right spots on the greens and was nerveless with the putter, holing out from mid-range with increasing monotony, and scrambling pars while others were making bogeys, and, in many cases, much worse scores.
With the last group out on Sunday, Tony Finau and Daniel Berger, almost there by default following Saturday 66s achieved in the easiest of the conditions, all eyes soon turned on the penultimate pairing of Koepka and Dustin Johnson. It would have been easy for Koepka to have succumbed to a match-play situation, and tried to out-power the world No.1, but he chose to play his own game, and the strategy paid off hugely.
However, both players, and, indeed, all but his biggest fans, had ruled out one other factor – Tommy Fleetwood. The 27-year-old from Southport in the UK made the world sit up and take notice at Erin Hills 12 months ago, when he finished fourth and went on to be crowned Europe's No.1 player five months later. Fleetwood's chances of a first major victory looked slim when he teed off on the Sunday afternoon, with his 54-hole score of nine over par placing him 23 players behind the top of the leaderboard.
Fleetwood's final round in the end left him one shot shy of the winning total. But five or so hours after starting, he was sitting in the scorer's hut having shot a seven-under-par 63, and taken the clubhouse lead on two over, a total that many observers thought would be enough to take the title, given the severity of the back nine. Eight birdies and a single bogey added up to a history-equalling score for the US Open, and were it not for lipping out at the last from eight feet for a 62, Fleetwood may well have been the one with the trophy on his shelf and a cheque for $2.1m in his back pocket. →
However, it was not to be, and the Englishman's bid for a maiden major title came up agonisingly short, as Koepka, who, despite a slight wobble on his approach to 18, closed out his second US Open title with a 68 for a one-over-par total, and followed in the footsteps of Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as the only back-to-back champions since the Second World War.
With the wind gusting up to 25mph on the opening day, the already quick greens soon turned into skating rinks, and with flags placed on ridges and many virtually inaccessible locations, at times it made the world's best players look like weekend hackers. Rory McIlroy and Jason Day both ended their hopes on day one, with rounds of 80 and 79 respectively, while 2016 Amateur champion Scott Gregory propped up the scoreboard with rounds of 92 and 75 for a 27-overpar total for 36 holes.
Three things stand out from Shinnecock that will be remembered the wrong reasons:
• Phil Mickelson making a spectacle of himself by intentionally violating a rule and double hitting the ball on the 13th hole on the Saturday.
• The severity of the course. Major golf is not meant to be easy and the US Open has a history of being tough but the course shouldn't be almost unplayable as happened at times through the first three rounds. Tough is good but it must also be fair. • Mike Davis, Chief Executive of the USGA, on TV as much as some of the players – ideally, he isn't seen until the trophy is presented. He had to explain how the wind was stronger than expected on Saturday to the point that he felt good shots were not rewarded, and in some cases punished. He also explained why the rules did not provide for Mickelson to be disqualified.
Fans choose what they remember and unfortunately if bad things happen those are often the things that are remembered. The US Open appears to possibly be becoming more about the USGA but it should be about who will hold the trophy aloft rather than the course and the players rather than the organisation.
It will be interesting to see if the scores stay low at Pebble Beach in 2019 or if there is a return to a double figure winning score such as Tiger Woods' record setting score in 2000 when he finished on -12, 15 shots of his nearest rival.
Rory McIlroy and Jason Day both ended their hopes on day one, with rounds of 80 and 79 respectively, while 2016 Amateur champion Scott Gregory propped up the scoreboard with rounds of 92 and 75 for a 27-over-par.
↑(T-B) Brooks KoepkaTommy Fleetwood scoring a seven under par 63 and ultimate second place by one shot to Brooks Koepka
Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA,