Koepka captures it

By GIDAL KAISER - Daily News

June 20, 2017

Brooks Koepka of West Palm Beach, Fla. smiles as he raises the U.S. Open trophy Sunday afternoon after the final round of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin. Koepka won after finishing with a 16-under-par 272.
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN — He thought about giving up the game in 2013, just before he qualified for the European Tour.

Brooks Koepka also considered himself, five years out of a standout collegiate career, as an underachiever, and thought for a moment that he should have stuck with baseball as a youth. On Sunday, however, he faced a media horde with what amounted to a broad smile for the low-key former Florida State golfer.

The 117th U.S. Open Championship trophy sat no more than 3 feet away, and the man who as a middle schooler told his father, Bob, he would be a major player on the PGA, joked “I think I’ll be all right” to a room-wide chuckle after claiming his first major championship.

The 27-year-old became the third consecutive American to win the championship by bludgeoning the course during Sunday’s final round, carding a 5-under-par 67 to finish with a 16-under 272. His final 72-hole score tied a record set by Rory McIlroy during the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

Brooks Koepka of West Palm Beach Fla. shakes the hand of his caddie, Richard Elliott, after finishing the final round of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

He hit 62 of 72 greens in regulation through the week en route to 21 birdies compared to five bogeys, with two during his round of 70. Koepka also posted two rounds of minus-5 on the way to the title three years after he used a top-4 finish at the 2014 U.S. Open to obtain his first PGA Tour card.

“I mean, I love U.S. Opens, I think anytime you test your whole game,” he said. “You can’t make mistakes every shot. I mean there’s a double and a triple waiting around every corner, if you just kind of take your mind off of it or just relax for a half-second.”

Though Koepka made the cut in each of the 13 consecutive majors he has played since the 2014 U.S. Open, he also has just one PGA Tour win (2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open) and one European PGA Tour win (2014 Turkish Airlines Open) to his credit. Koepka’s world travels added another victory, a Japan Golf Tour win at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament on Nov. 20, but three different tour victories on three continents did little to appease him.

A runner-up finish to Sergio Garcia at the 2016 AT& T Bryon Nelson Classic, falling in a playoff, only seemed to add to his frustration.

“He’s been playing quite well, and with a lot of seconds the last two or three years,” caddie Richard Elliot said. “Really, one thing or another has been happening where he hasn’t been winning.

“He’s seeing all his peers winning that are younger than him, and at 27 he’s not that old but he thinks he should be winning every week.”

The résumé contains four top-5 major finishes, with consecutive top-5s in the PGA Championship, but the dearth of wins otherwise is what stoked his anger. His highest majors placement outside of the PGA Championship and 2014 U.S. Open was tied for 10th at the 2015 Open Championship, and he had several other weekends where he was in contention through 54 holes, only to see his chance slip away.

“I felt like I put myself in contention so many times,” he said. “And I don’t want to say got unlucky, I felt like I just never fully came together. I put myself in some good chances over the majors over the last few years and never really quite came through.

“But I just felt like I should be winning more. I don’t know why. 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’d only won once (on the PGA Tour).”

If nothing else, Elliot and Koepka noted, his days on the Challenge Tour and European PGA Tour allowed him to obtain a new mindset and some confidence while being a world traveler at a young age.

“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,” Koepka said. “And I built a lot of confidence off of that.”

He also admitted something about a major tournament makes him “focus in a lot more.” It was evident each day at Erin Hills, especially during his three birdie stretch on holes No. 14-16, which cemented his title. The birdies took him from minus-13 and a twostroke lead over third-day leader Brian Harman to a nearly insurmountable threestroke advantage. “The second shot on 15 was unbelievable because we were kind of in between numbers,” Elliot said, adding the 155-yard chip shot with an 8 iron was the best shot of Koepka’s day. “He hit this little — must have taken 15 yards off the iron. I don’t know why he did it, but he went up there and (then) knocked the putt in.

“He’d been hitting the ball pretty good all week, so we had no doubt he could get it up to where he did,” Elliot added of the three-hole stretch. “We just stayed patient the whole time.” Patience has helped Koepka through his worldwide tour since graduation. His 2016 Ryder Cup record of 3-1 was seemingly the statistical highlight until he stepped onto Erin Hills.

“I’d love to get a map and just look at all the places I’ve won. It’s pretty cool,” Koepka said. “But to win my first major in the United States is pretty special.

“It hasn’t even sunk in, but I think it will be special (when it does).”