Saturday, January 20, 2018
Golf

Florida State alumnus Brooks Koepka wins U.S. Open (w/ video)

ERIN, Wis. — Brooks Koepka received a succinct piece of advice from a valuable source on the eve of the U.S. Open's final round.

His friend, defending champion Dustin Johnson, was doing the talking.

"It was a long phone call for us. It was, like, two minutes," Koepka said. "But he just said a few things — I'll win if I stay patient and just keep doing what I'm doing."

With athleticism and power, and four straight putts on the back nine that allowed him to pull away, Koepka capped off his hardscrabble journey around the world by winning his first major at home.

The former Florida State standout closed with 5-under 67 Sunday, realizing only after his par on the final hole that a birdie would have set yet another U.S. Open record in a week filled with them. Koepka finished at 16-under 272, matching the lowest score to par, set by Rory McIlroy in 2011 while winning at Congressional in Bethesda, Md.

Tied for the lead with six holes to play, Koepka, 27, holed an 8-foot par putt on No. 13 that gave him confidence with his stroke and momentum to pour in birdies on the next three holes to turn the final hour into what amounted to a runaway victory.

Koepka won by four over third-round leader Brian Harman (70), who was done in by back-to-back bogeys when Koepka was making his run, and Hideki Matsuyama, whose 66 was the day's best round.

"That's probably the most emotion I've ever shown coming down the stretch," Koepka said.

Emotion? The most he displayed was a light fist pump, his hand clenched a little tighter with each birdie, and a double fist pump on the 18th when he tapped in for par.

It capped quite a journey for the Wellington native. Without a card on any tour when he got out of FSU, Koepka filled his passport on the Challenge Tour with stamps from Kazakhstan and Kenya, Scotland and Spain, India and Madeira Island.

One night in Scotland, he called his agent and wanted to come home, though he was leading the tournament. He had been on the road for so long, in so many countries, and was feeling lonely. He won the next day to graduate to the European Tour. The next year, he earned a spot in the 2014 U.S. Open through a qualifier in England, and his tie for fourth helped him earn a card on the PGA Tour.

"To go over there, I think it helped me grow up a little bit and really figure out that, hey, play golf, get it done, and then you can really take this somewhere," said Koepka, who made his first U.S. Ryder Cup team last year.

The low scoring went much deeper than Koepka's final score. Only six players had ever reached double digits under par in the previous 116 U.S. Opens. McIlroy and Tiger Woods (12 under at Pebble Beach in 2000) had been the only players to finish there. This year, nine players reached at least 10 under, and seven finished there.

The week ended with 31 players under par, breaking the record of 28 at Medinah in 1990. There were 133 sub-par rounds, nine more than the record set in that 1990 U.S. Open.

Another who finished in double digits was Rickie Fowler (72), who was poised at yet another major to win only to fall back. He was only two behind when he made the turn, but bogeys on 12 and 15 — and no birdies until 18 — ended his hopes. He finished 10 under.

"I feel like I'm playing at the highest level," Fowler said. "You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, because that doesn't happen a whole lot."

Justin Thomas, coming off a 9-under 63 that matched the major championship scoring record and was the first 9-under round at a U.S. Open, shot 75 to tie for ninth at 8 under.

"Well, it wasn't going to be like (Saturday), regardless," he said.

 
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