By Ann Liguori
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This year’s U.S. Open was not only an impressive display of Brooks Koepka’s talents and his intense competitiveness, but it also showed off the depth in the men’s game, particularly with the young Americans.
Koepka won his first major championship, and he did it in record-tying style. His 16 under ties Rory McIlroy for the lowest 72-hole total in relation to par in the history of the championship.
The 27-year-old from Florida was unflappable despite a day when winds gusted up to 30 miles per hour and Erin Hills, the longest course in U.S. Open history, showed its teeth.
Koepka shot a 5-under 67 with six birdies and one bogey. He opened with two straight birdies, drained a 41-footer for birdie on the eighth, bogeyed the 10th and made what he called a “massive par save” on 13. He then distanced himself from Brian Harman, whom he co-led with at 13 under, and the rest of the field, after draining three straight birdies on holes 14, 15 and 16 to pull away.
It was a unique U.S. Open. Missing in action during the weekend were six of the top 10-ranked players in the world, who didn’t make the cut, including the top three — Dustin Johnson, McIlroy and Jason Day. And Phil Mickelson withdrew to attend his daughter’s graduation. If the championship lacked star power, it created an opportunity for several young Americans to rise to the challenge and strut their stuff under the spotlight.
Harman, the leader heading into the final round, gave it a good fight before finishing four shots back with Hideki Matsuyama of Japan. Behind them, five Americans in their 20s — Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Trey Mullinax, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed — finished in the top 13. Fowler took the lead on Thursday with a 7-under 65, tying the lowest score to par in the first round of the U.S. Open. He ended up tied for fifth, shooting a 10 under overall.
Thomas rocked the place in the third round, with his record-breaking 9-under 63, smacking a 3-wood 310 yards to the par 5 finishing hole, and sinking the 8-footer for eagle to complete his historic round. Thomas finished tied for ninth at 8 under.
Low amateur Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ of Texas A&M were also impressive.
This was Koepka’s fifth U.S. Open. His Ryder Cup debut last year at Hazeltine helped him cope with the pressure this weekend. He had only won one PGA Tour title, the 2015 Phoenix Open. The previous year, he won the Turkish Airlines Open. Before that, he spent time in Europe and won four Challenge Cup titles. And he played his college golf at Florida State, where he was a three-time All-American.
Koepka credits staying patient for his victory.
“I felt like that has been the thing lately with me, why I haven’t really played that well — I’ve been trying to win so badly. I felt like I’ve underachieved,” he said.
“I just felt like I should be winning more,” Koepka admitted. “It’s one of those things. Not a big fan of losing. I don’t think anyone out here is. And I just couldn’t stand the fact that I only won once.”
This young crop of talent is intense. And based on their performances this week, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them on top of the leaderboards going forward.
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