Wiedmer: Brooks Koepka bombs his way to U.S. Open crown

Wiedmer: Brooks Koepka bombs his way to U.S. Open crown

June 19th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Brooks Koepka hits from the 15th tee during the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. Koepka won with a record-tying score of 16 under.

Photo by Charlie Riedel

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Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Brooks Koepka made it sound simple, this winning of the 117th U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday at Erin Hills.

"It was bombs away," said the 27-year-old Florida State alum in the minutes shortly after claiming his first major title. "You could hit it far. The fairways were generous."

This isn't what you normally hear about U.S. Open courses. They're usually tougher to knock out than Rocky Balboa, their greens slicker than Samuel L. Jackson's dome, their hazards as scary as Alfred Hitchcock at his best.

But not this Open. Not with Koepka — he of the one PGA Tour win, the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open — firing a tournament record-tying total of 16 under par at the 11-year-old course located 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee. Not with seven golfers finishing 10 under or better. Not with those generous fairways and manageable greens, though at least some of that was due to Mother Nature's tears softening up the place.

So Koepka not only wins the largest winner's share in golf — $2.16 million — he's also now dating Winder, Ga., native and model Jena Sims, whom a Fox talking head briefly misidentified as one-time professional soccer player Becky Edwards, his former girlfriend. Here's thinking that misstep was a lot more painful for Edwards than Sims, especially in light of that payday.

What's painful for golf's old guard — or at least those guys out there named Mickelson, McIlroy (who now shares that 16-under record with Koepka), Spieth, and, yes, even Woods — is that this Koepka is the seventh straight first-time major champion.

Suddenly, this notion that experience matters on golf's biggest stages is taking as big a beating as President Trump on Saturday Night Live. While tennis has returned to its old guard this year thus far — 18-time major winner Roger Federer winning the Australian Open, 15-time major champ Rafael Nadal claiming the French — golf keeps dipping into its seemingly endless talent pool for new victors.

And Koepka looks like a guy we could hear from again. He was a member of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team last fall. He was ranked 19th in the world when this past week began and will stand 10th today.

Close friends with last year's champ, Dustin Johnson, Koepka seems to be on one of those upward arcs that might last a while, though doesn't it always seem that way in victory?

If anything, the better story might have been diminutive 30-year-old lefty and University of Georgia product Brian Harman. Though tied for the lead with six holes to play, the 5-foot-7, 155-pounder couldn't hang on down the stretch, bogeying three holes to wind up tied with Hideki Matsuyama for second at 12 under.

But it's the putt he made on 18 for that bogey that's worth remembering and saluting, since missing it would have cost him $500,000.

Was this a perfect U.S. Open? Probably not, other than pretty much being the perfect Father's Day gift for those who love golf. It lacked a number of big names we're used to seeing on the leaderboard on Dad's Day, though at least one of those, Mickelson, richly deserves celebrity dad of the year status for skipping this year's tournament to attend his oldest daughter's high school graduation.

It also had a rather grumpy old man moment Saturday when Johnny Miller — who closed with an 8-under 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont — didn't seem all too pleased young Justin Thomas had just bested that mark as the best U.S. Open round by shooting a 9-under 63.

To be fair, Oakmont did allow only three other rounds under 70 that day, and Miller beat some of the greatest names in the history of golf — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino — to prevail.

But Miller's thoughts on Thomas's record-breaking round when reached by phone on the Golf Channel were subdued at best: "Taking nothing away from 9 under par — 9 under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure, but it isn't a U.S. Open course that I'm familiar with the way it was set up."

And maybe it wasn't a classic Open test any more than it was a classic Open leaderboard. It happens. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts probably couldn't have won the Super Bowl they won if they'd been facing the 1985 Chicago Bears instead of the 2006 Bears. But you play who and what's in front of you.

Besides, Koepka has had his tough moments, such as his mother's successful fight against breast cancer.

"You've got to give a punch and take a punch in sports and in life," she supposedly told him, which he proved pretty well after his three-putt on the 10th hole.

With Fox wrapping up its coverage Sunday evening, analyst Brad Faxon said, "We always knew a bomber would be here, we just didn't know it would be Koepka."

As the past seven majors have shown, we may never have known less about picking winners on golf's biggest stages.

In this sport, parity is no rarity.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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