US Open 2018

Proof of his talent, toughness

Brooks Koepka admiring the US Open trophy on Sunday. Since the World War II era, he is only the third man to retain the title, after Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89).
Brooks Koepka admiring the US Open trophy on Sunday. Since the World War II era, he is only the third man to retain the title, after Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Koepka's conquest of difficult Shinnecock Hills enhances reputation as he retains title

SOUTHAMPTON (New York) • Brooks Koepka warned everybody. Anyone who wanted the US Open trophy would have to prise it out of his clenched, brawny arms.

They tried in all manner of ways to get it from him, none more so than Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who nearly pickpocketed it with his early record-tying 63.

Koepka withstood it all to become the first repeat winner in nearly 30 years. He had the swagger of a linebacker and the face of a rock formation, and he needed both to deal with the various pressures of this Open.

There was that chronic ruffling wind. There was the course itself, the par-70 Shinnecock Hills, built like a series of switchbacks.

There was the stress of fighting back from seven over, which was where he found himself in the second round. There was the torment inflicted by the United States Golf Association (USGA), which mowed and pressed the greens until they were cruelly fast. Then there were his pursuers across a course that suddenly became yielding on Sunday.

Through it all, Koepka was an unshakeable presence, stalking through a nerve-shredding final-round of 68 that gave him a one-stroke victory on one-over 281 but made him a two-time champion.

"The US Open just takes so much discipline," he said. "You have got to just kind of let things roll off your back... I enjoy the test. I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that's what I enjoy. I enjoy hard golf courses."

TOUGH BUT ENJOYABLE

I enjoy the test. I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that's what I enjoy. I enjoy hard golf courses.

BROOKS KOEPKA, back-to-back US Open champion, on his victory at Shinnecock Hills, which requires golfers to have the ability to shape the ball from every direction with every club and the mental durability to survive high scores.

What he established this week is that his game is about far more than just toughness or strength.

He is as complete a talent as there is. Since the World War II era, only two men had retained the US Open title, Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89), and only six in history.

Koepka's feat was accomplished on radically different courses.

Last year's edition was a scorefest on a young Erin Hills course with wide fairways and a winning score of 16 under.

Shinnecock was a narrow, winding, unforgiving track that pros regard as among the most difficult and strategic in the world. It required the ability to shape the ball from every direction with every club and the mental durability to survive high scores.

On Sunday, the USGA relented on the pin positions, which for three days had teetered on sidehills and steep precipices, and added plenty of moisture. The result was a sudden rash of scoring. Off went Fleetwood with his 63 that included six threes on his back nine.

The 27-year-old arrived at the par-four 18th with a chance to establish the all-time scoring record and, from the fairway, he cut a beautiful six-iron that settled to eight feet.

"That was a shot I fancied to pull off," he said.

Only a swerve of a millimetre prevented him from carding a 62. As it was, he settled for joining Johnny Miller as the only men to shoot a 63 in the final round of a US Open.

More importantly, that missed edge was the eventual difference between a play-off and a loss.

"Obviously that's the putt that will play on your mind because that was the last shot you hit, and that was your chance," he said.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was left to ponder another Major that got away. After starting the day in a four-way tie for the lead with Koepka, Daniel Berger (73) and Tony Finau (72), the 2016 champion carded a 70 to finish two shots back in third place.

Said Koepka: "To have my name on (the trophy) twice is pretty incredible, and to go back-to-back is even more extraordinary. This one's a lot sweeter."

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'Proof of his talent, toughness'. Print Edition | Subscribe