How Koepka's iron will made him the US Open's poster boyJune 18, 2018
Who could fail to be impressed by Brooks Koepka’s nerve down the closing stretch at Shinnecock Hills? Steve Carroll certainly was…
US Opens are usually defined by those whose heart fails them when it is needed most. Who really remembers Geoff Ogilvy winning in 2006?
But everyone can recall in exquisite detail Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie self-destructing at the final hole.
Dustin Johnson may have had this famous trophy on his mantelpiece, but his mishaps at Pebble Beach and Chambers Bay form just as central a part in his body of work.
Shinnecock Hills, though, will be commemorated for something else. It will be talked about for a display of iron will in the closing holes from a man who broke a 29-year curse.
Curtis Strange, in 1989, was the last to successfully defend America’s national championship.
Next year, Brooks Koepka – just the third player since 1950 to keep his hands on the prize – will try to join Willie Anderson as the only man to win a treble.
“I looked at all these names a million times it felt last year,” he said. “To have my name on it twice is pretty incredible and to go back-to-back is pretty extraordinary. I am totally honoured.”
With so many players in contention and a course that was dialled back considerably from the carnage of the third round, it could have been a shootout.
But though Tommy Fleetwood became another to join the exclusive club of those who have shot 63s in US Opens, Koepka’s other rivals flickered and faded away.
Patrick Reed was five under through eight before dropped shots at 11 and 12 blunted his progress.
DJ battled a second off colour day, and hung onto the coattails, but wilted when it really mattered.
Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Daniel Berger – all played their way out of it long before it came down to the closing holes.
In truth, Koepka didn’t give them a sniff.
He missed fairways like the rest of them, found himself mired in the deep rough, and facing the devilish chip.
But the Americans have a word to describe those who continually deliver when the pressure is at its highest: clutch.
Time and time again on the back nine, Koepka gave new meaning to the term.
Any kind of number looked possible on 11, after his iron shot airmailed the green on the short hole, but he rapped in a putt and kept on finding the answers.
He added: “I made those clutch eight to 10 footers you need to make to keep the momentum going. We didn’t drive it that great but you can make up so much with a hot putter. That’s what I was doing.
“It was a great bogey I made at 11. That was big. From where we were I would have taken double. We were in jail. You can’t miss it there but that (bogey) bought some momentum down the stretch.”
Also impressive were the up and down on 14 after finding the deep rough and the stiffed approach on 16 for the birdie that effectively won him the championship.
Even striking the grandstand on the final hole caused no consternation. The man is almost comatose.
He also has his critics, and if social media is any judge, he’s not terribly popular with fans. Not that he’s bothered.
“I always feel I am overlooked,” he said. “I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t bug me. I am going to keep plugging away.”
Even those who haven’t warmed to him, though, surely couldn’t fail to be impressed by his attitude, application and determination.
In a tournament that is renowned for attrition, he is a poster boy – a man for the major occasion.
Shinnecock Hills was his seventh top 10 in the big four tournaments.
He’s won both ways too – eviscerating Erin Hills 12 months ago before this time grinding out the successive pars that are usually so vital in a traditional set up.
It’s clear that Koepka is a superstar, worthy of his place at the table with Spieth, McIlroy, DJ and the rest.
And with such a tough spirit, who’s to say how many majors he can win?
“I haven’t really thought about my legacy,” he concluded. “I remember Rich Beem at the Open was talking about the 280 guys who have won a major.
“Once you win the second, the list comes down a lot lower. It’s pretty incredible to be a two-time major champion.”
Koepka may not know how many he can win but we can reliably know this. It’s going to be more than two.