Brooks Koepka is the latest American to become a first-time major winner at US Open

By
Todd Milles
The News Tribune

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Monday, June 19, 2017 | 6:51 a.m.

ERIN, Wis. -- Brooks Koepka flashes an unflappable, size-you-up look wherever he strolls -- much like a real-life Peter Parker or big-cheese John Wayne.

Maybe that is why he took off for a different sunset in finding his way in professional golf.

The roundabout way is turning out pretty well for the big-hitting Floridian, who captured his first major title Sunday at the 117th United States Open at whopping Erin Hills.

Even under drastically different conditions than the previous three days, Koepka obliterated the wind-swept layout with a 5-under-par 67 in the final round to win by four strokes.

In fact, his 16-under 272 total tied Rory McIlroy's tournament scoring record from 2011 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

U.S. Open: Final Scores from Erin Hills | Watch Koepka's 41-foot putt | Photos

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who closed with the day's best score (66) and American Brian Harman (72) shared runner-up honors at 12-under 276.

It was the seventh consecutive major captured by a first-time winner, including now at the past three U.S. Opens -- with Jordan Spieth winning at Chambers Bay in 2015, and Dustin Johnson at Oakmont last year.

Those are two of the biggest names in the sport. The 27-year-old Koepka is just climbing that ladder to stardom.

Unlike Spieth or Johnson coming out of college programs, when Koepka left Florida State University he did not go the traditional route to the PGA Tour by starting in Canada, or making his way on the Web.com Tour.

Instead, he took off for Europe in 2013.

There, he began to learn the ropes of the professional game on the second-tier Challenge Tour, and made a lot of friends who speak assorted languages along the way.

"Not a lot (of Americans) do it. The Challenge Tour is a great tour. It's very tough. It gives you a good grounding, I think," said England's Tommy Fleetwood, his playing partner Sunday. "Brooks dealt with it amazingly -- he came and kicked everybody's (butt) over there, didn't he?

"A few years later, he is winning the U.S. Open."

Eventually, Koepka made his way back to his homeland in 2015, and won on the PGA Tour at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Since then, despite his great showing at the majors -- he's made the cut in his past 12 appearances, with only one finish outside the top 35 -- Koepka has not backed up that victory.

And that is something with which he's scuffled.

"I just felt like I should be winning more," Koepka said.

But this week, among his peers, Koepka was certainly considered a viable contender with his ability to overpower even the biggest courses -- and Erin Hills was the U.S. Open's longest layout ever at nearly 7,800 yards.

"He'd been knocking on the door for a while," said Justin Thomas, a two-time PGA Tour winner in 2016 who was in the final pairing. "He's been very unnoticed and maybe not respected as much as he should have for his record. But he's played so well in the majors, and played great in the Ryder Cup (at Hazeltine)."

On Saturday night, Koepka received a phone call from Johnson, his good friend. It lasted only a couple of minutes.

"It was a long phone call for us," Koepka joked.

Johnson's advice was simple: Stay patient, stick to your game and "you will win the thing," Koepka said.

Koepka was tied with Harman on the back nine when he faced a tricky 9-foot putt to save par at No. 13. He drilled it in.

"Massive," he said.

He reached the front bunker in two shots at the 14th hole, a par 5, and got up and down for birdie to grab a two-shot lead.

And he kept building on that.

At No. 15, the dangerous short par 4, he attacked a back-right pin, and netted another birdie.

"That second shot was unbelievable -- that pin is hanging off the back," Koepka said. "Into the wind ... that was pretty impressive. It was probably one of the best shots I hit all week."

He birdied the 16th hole, and suddenly his lead was up to four strokes, which is where it stayed.

And after tapping in the final putt on the finishing hole, he pumped his fist three times and yelled, "Yes!"

That is about as emotional as he gets.

Meanwhile, it was a record-breaking week at Erin Hills. Thirty-one players finished under-par, a new tournament mark.

Nine players reached double-digits under-par at some point during the tournament, also a U.S. Open record.

And for the week, there were 140 sub-par rounds recorded -- with 122 coming in the first three rounds.

"It was fun to ... be able to score, because typically at a U.S. Open, you get your head beat in," American Rickie Fowler said.

This article is written by Todd Milles from The News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.