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.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

Dustin John­son

Phil Mick­el­son.

Mike Davis, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the USGA,

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