While Patrick Reed was winning the Masters in April, Brooks Koepka sat at home in Florida nursing a left wrist injury that had kept him off the golf course for most of the previous four months. He wouldn’t be cleared to take full swings with his wedges or irons until the Monday after his friends and PGA Tour competitors had departed Augusta National.
That didn’t leave much time for Koepka to prepare to defend his United States Open title. But his swing coach, Claude Harmon III, knew Koepka would be fine when he saw that he was glued to the television, watching the end of the Masters instead of the beginning of the Major League Baseball season.
The viewing choice augured well for Koepka, “who’s never really been a golf nerd,” said Harmon.
“He watched the Masters,” Harmon added, “and I really believe he fell in love with golf again.”
Koepka, 28, who considered himself a frustrated baseball player slumming in golf for much of his teens and twenties, endeared himself to golf nerds, including those not yet born, on Sunday by becoming the third professional to win consecutive men’s national championships since 1949, after Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951 and Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
“It’s really incredible,” Koepka said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Koepka, who began the day in a four-way tie for the lead, closed with a two-under 68 and a 72-hole score of one-over 281 at Shinnecock Hills. He finished one stroke ahead of the Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who tied the record for a men’s U.S. Open round with his closing 63. It was the first time since 2013 that the winner had finished over par.
When Koepka won last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, he finished at 16 under, tying the U.S. Open record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011. But Shinnecock, which hosted the Open for the fifth time, has been known to humble the world’s best golfers, as the late part of Saturday’s round demonstrated. Amid high temperatures and stiff winds, it produced soaring scores and a lot of criticism of the setup. Koepka, however, seemed unperturbed.
“You’ve got to keep going, keep plugging away and don’t get caught up in all the talk and just keep focused on what you’re doing,” he said after his victory, adding, “I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes, you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that’s what I enjoy.”
Dustin Johnson, who is Koepka’s training partner and close friend, posted a 70 for sole possession of third at three over.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Karen Crouse