Brooks Koepka, who began the day in a four-way tie for the lead, closed with a 2-under 68 for a 1-over 281 at Shinnecock Hills. It was the first time since 2013 that the winner had finished over par.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — While Patrick Reed was winning the Masters in April, Brooks Koepka sat at home in Florida nursing an injured left wrist that had kept him off the golf course for most of the previous four months. He would not be cleared to take full swings with his wedges or irons until the Monday after his friends had departed Augusta National.
That did not leave much time for Koepka to prepare to defend his U.S. Open title. But his swing coach, Claude Harmon III, knew Koepka would be fine when he saw that he was glued to the television, watching the end of the Masters instead of the beginning of the Major League Baseball season.
The viewing choice augured well for Koepka, “Who’s never really been a golf nerd,” said Harmon.
“He watched the Masters,” Harmon said, “and I really believe he fell in love with golf again.”
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Koepka, 28, who considered himself a frustrated baseball player slumming in golf for much of his teens and 20s, endeared himself to golf nerds Sunday by becoming the third professional to win consecutive U.S. Opens in the post-World War II era, after Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951 and Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
“It’s really incredible,” Koepka said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Koepka, who began the day in a four-way tie for the lead, closed with a 2-under 68 for a 1-over 281 at Shinnecock Hills. It was the first time since 2013 that the winner had finished over par. He finished one stroke ahead of Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who tied the record for a U.S. Open round with his closing 63.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t think I could do it,” Koepka said. “But I knew that it was going to be that much more difficult. And to finally do it, it’s much more gratifying the second time. I can really appreciate how hard it is to win a major.”
When Koepka won last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, he finished at 16 under, tying the U.S. Open record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011. But Shinnecock, which was the site of the Open for the fifth time, has been known to humble the world’s best golfers, as the late part of the round Saturday demonstrated. Amid high temperatures and stiff winds, it produced soaring scores and a lot of criticism of the setup. Koepka, however, seemed unperturbed.
“You’ve got to keep going, keep plugging away and don’t get caught up in all the talk and just keep focused on what you’re doing,” he said after his victory, adding, “I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes, you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that’s what I enjoy.”
Dustin Johnson, Koepka’s training partner and close friend, posted a 70 for sole possession of third at 3 over.
Koepka’s father was a pitcher in college, and Koepka said that if not for his struggles hitting fastballs, he probably never would have focused on golf. He has no problem hitting the long ball off golf tees, but his putting was his salvation in the final round, particularly the 7-footer he made for birdie at No. 10 and the 13-footer he drained at No. 11 to salvage a bogey.
“The one that was really massive for us was No. 11,” Koepka said, referring to himself and his caddie, Ricky Elliott.
Koepka pulled a pitching wedge to the left, down the slope and into thick grass. He chopped that up the slope with so much speed that it raced across the green and into the bunker. He blasted that out to 13 feet and made the putt to keep his lead at one shot.
“That was like making a birdie,” Koepka added, “maybe even making an eagle, it felt like, because it could have been a big momentum shift there.”
The tournament’s Father’s Day finish is a sweet topping on the Sunday drama, with players rhapsodizing about the paternal bonds that cemented their love for the game. Fleetwood signed for his 63, then said he planned to play with his 9-month-old son, Franklin, while he waited to see if any of the 26 players who teed off after him could improve on his 2-over 282.
It was Fleetwood’s first Father’s Day with a child, and one sensed, from the way his face brightened when he talked about his son, that the day had been a special one long before his final putt dropped.
Koepka’s father, Bob, watched the tournament last year on television. But he made the trip to Shinnecock Hills.
“I told him last year, ‘This was the best Father’s Day present ever — until next year,’ ” Bob Koepka said after the final putt dropped. “And I’m going to tell him the same thing now.”
|Seven players have won the U.S. Open at least twice in a row.|