Brooks Koepka shot a Sunday 68 (-2) at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York to win back-to-back US Opens- the first player to do so since Curtis Strange won at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1988 and Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York in 1989. The former Florida State Seminole played phenomenally over the weekend, particularly on Saturday in the afternoon- shooting a 72 when fellow competitors were complaining of the downright difficult decisions at Shinnecock. For reference, 2nd and 3rd place finishers Tommy Fleetwood and Dustin Johnson shot 78 and 77 respectively Saturday. World #12 Hideki Matsuyama shot a 79 and #8 Rickie Fowler shot an 84. This marks Koepka’s 3rd career win on the PGA Tour, and he moves from 9th to 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings. He’s now 7/8 in cuts made this season with top-10s and sits 13th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“I don’t think I could have dreamed of this, going back-to-back” Koepka told FOX’s Curtis Strange on the 18th green. When asked how special it is to go back-to-back at the US Open, Koepka said “I don’t, to be honest with you. It hasn’t sunk in yet. This is incredible. I don’t think I could’ve dreamed of this, going back-to-back. It’s truly special, and I’m so honored.”
Despite Koepka’s solid finish, it was Tommy Fleetwood who stole the show for most of Sunday after posting a 7-under 63. He hit all but 2 greens in regulation and had a Sunday putting average of 1.50- only 11 players the entire week had a putting average that low for any round of the tournament. “I’ve really enjoyed the challenge,” he said after an 8 birdie/1 bogey final round. “I loved playing here. I love preparing for it. After playing Chambers Bay (2015) and Erin Hills (2017), everybody told me I haven’t played a traditional U.S. Open course yet, so I’m glad I’ve done that now.” Fleetwood’s 63 ties him for the lowest round ever shot at a US Open. He joins Johnny Miller (1963), Jack Nicklaus (1980), Tom Weiskopf (1980), Vijay Singh (2003) and Justin Thomas (2017).
After looking poised to win his 2nd (and perhaps what really should have been his 3rd or 4th) US Open, Dustin Johnson fell down to Earth this weekend posting scores of 77-70 to finish solo 3rd and 2 shots back of Koepka- coincidentally his gym partner in crime. Johnson quickly signed his scorecard and left the property on Sunday, refusing to speak to the media. His putting let him down this week- he averaged 1.44 and 1.50 strokes in the beginning of the week but ballooned to 2.11 on Saturday and 1.94 Sunday. Even Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, who both shot 80+ rounds over the weekend, averaged less putts on Saturday and Sunday.
And as someone who covered this event live on Saturday and witnessed the viciousness of the greens- I can assure you that the greens and setup were unfair. While the fairways were massively wide, pin placements on many of the greens were deliberately ignorant of players’ abilities. After walking the course I could honestly say that maybe 3-4 holes were accessible even with a perfect tee shot- the rest were situations where a player would need to miss an approach 15-25 feet wide and have a slippery 2-putt lag putt just to make par- and even then their ball could roll of the greens. Witnessing Phil’s 2-stroke penalty live showed how frustrations with the layout really boiled over amongst players. I saw Jimmy Walker and Jason Dufner and Pat Perez slam clubs at their bags for not being rewarded for hitting good shots, Rickie go +6 over a 3-hole stretch and walk with his head down, and Justin Thomas go from nearly holing out for eagle on the back-9 to having a chip 20 yards off the putting surface.
Difficult pin placements, 15-20mph winds, and dried out greens resulted in many complaints aimed at the USGA Saturday night after play was over.
“No, we’re not on the edge. I thought we could be on the edge, but we’ve surpassed it,” Zach Johnson told Fox after his 3rd round. “It’s pretty much gone, specifically the latter part of the day for us. It’s pretty much shot, which is unfortunate because it’s — in my opinion — some of the best land and one of the best venues in all of golf, specifically in this country. It’s as good as it gets. Shinnecock Hills is beautiful. Unfortunately, they’ve lost the golf course.”
“Maybe they got more wind than they thought they’d get,” Brendan Steele said on Saturday. “The course was fair the first two days, today I thought it was getting sketchy.”
Henrik Stenson felt similar to Johnson, claiming “They lost the golf course today, certainly on the back nine.”
Pat Perez was frustrated as well telling reporters, “When you have L wedge in your hand and you hit to the spot you want to and you almost make the putt and it blows of the green 20 yards, it starts to become a point where, ‘Did these guys screw up? Did they not see this coming?’”
The USGA bit the bullet once again for eerily similar issues that plagued the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock. While Executive Director of the USGA Mike Davis admitted the Saturday course layout was too harsh when coupled with the wind and dry conditions, the damage was done and the USGA’s embattled reputation faced off with fans and players alike who did not like what they saw. The greens were watered more for Sunday- and certainly the scores showed it.
While this US Open answered questions like if Koepka is the real deal or does Fleetwood have a chance at winning a major soon (the answer to both are resoundingly yes), there were certainly more questions left unanswered. Dustin Johnson’s confidence, especially in his short game, is still a work in progress. Was Phil’s deliberate 2-stroke penalty a smart play or a bad look for the game? When is a US Open too tough? Finally, what do the fans actually want? Perhaps its not a question of scores but rather players’ attitudes and interactions that make or break the experience for people dishing out hundreds of dollars to witness golf’s best.
Whatever the case maybe, the schedule moves on as does life, where 5 of the world’s top 10 golfers will tee it up in Cromwell, Connecticut at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highland this weeks. Coverage will begin Thursday at 3:30pm on the Golf Channel and CBS will handle weekend duties beginning at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday.
The Wrightway Network will be on the road again in a few weeks for The National at TPC Potomac in Bethesda, Maryland. The week after we’ll be in West Virginia for the Greenbrier Classic at TPC White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia. Keep it locked in for all your golf updates and stay tuned for an op-ed by COO Austin Meo on the future of fanhood in the game of golf.