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Radio Joe: Koepka is a Major Champion; USGA got it right

Joe Zenzola
June 18, 2017 - 9:21 pm
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For the seventh straight Major, we have another first-time winner. His name is Brooks Koepka.

But first, a lot of crazy things happened on this golf course…

  • Koepka shot -16 overall…it ties the best winning score to par in U.S. Open history (McIlroy ’11)
  • Justin Thomas fired a -9, 63 in the third round which broke Johnny Miller’s record for lowest score relative to par in a round
  • After four rounds of golf, 31 players finished under par…that’s the most in U.S. Open History
  • For the first time in Major Championship history (since the start of the World Golf Rankings in '86), the Top 3 golfers in the world - Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day - all missed the cut 
  • Plus, there was a blimp crash, small levels of E Coli found in drinking water, and there was the passing of a 94-year old gentleman, RIP
  • And there was very little wind which nobody expected…more later….

Now, let’s talk about Koepka. Playing all over the world garnering wins in Europe, Japan, and now here in the states, Brooks Koepka’s stock is about to rise. He calls himself an ‘under-achiever’ despite the fact he’s only 27. The Florida State alum (I bet LeRoy Butler was cheering for him) continues to push himself, but he says he doesn’t get nervous when it comes to playing in these Major tournaments. Everything played in his favor on Sunday, which included rattling off three straight birdies on 14, 15, & 16. He shot a -5, 67, and -16 overall. Koepka never lost focus. Can break he through and win multiple Majors? I think he has the talent to do it….

Now we get to the ‘Was the U.S. Open setup too easy?’

My answer…Absolutely not.

We saw, at least for the morning wave, how tough Erin Hills can play with 20+ mph winds…There were periods were only a handful of golfers were under par. As the afternoon went on, the winds settled and scores improved. For at least the first four hours of the tournament, Erin Hills played like a true U.S. Open, and maybe that’s what the USGA wanted all along. For what we saw over the last four days, the weather at Erin Hills was rather unusual. Typically, you get strong winds out here, but the weather was too perfect and too calm. In the weeks leading into the U.S. Open, I think USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and his staff factored the notorious wind into their setup. The tall fescue, the unsettling bunkers, and a lot of wind would be the biggest tests. In fairness to the players, why not widen the fairways? Why not reward the golfers with something? I think the USGA was looking for a little more balance in their setup, but still providing the necessary headaches for the field. They want to make it tough; that’s their reputation and it will never change. But did they really want the winner to be +6? Bottom line, the course was certainly a challenge, but the lack of wind gave golfers more opportunities to go low. The USGA does not own Mother Nature.

Jordan Spieth said it best after his round: “I think anytime you’ve seen the golf courses, U.S. Open golf venues, work back towards even par there’s complaints, but then now all of sudden, they make it tough and fair but people are 12 under and people are complaining that they're 12 under, so let’s pick one side or the other here.”

I agree. I have no complaints. The USGA got it right, and it was a hell of a championship.

I have no insight on this but I do believe the U.S. Open will come back to Erin Hills someday.

Other final though tidbits…

Jordan Spieth told me after his best round of the week (-3, 69 among really tough, windy conditions) that his confidence level heading into his next tournament at the Travelers Championship is a B. He says he can get it to an A/A+ if he can figure out his putting. From what I saw today, it was one of his better days on the green.

Jordan Niebrugge finishes with a solid -1, 71 in the final round. The Mequon native posted a 33 on the Back 9, including birdies on the difficult 17th and the long Par 5 18th. His representative told me last night that he received an exemption to play in this week’s Web.com Tour event down in Springfield, Illinois. It’s not easy working your way up to the PGA Tour, but Niebrugge will surely take every opportunity he can get moving up in the golf world. I'm sure we'll see him another Major down the road...

Steve Stricker played well on the weekend. He shot two 69s on Saturday and Sunday, finishing T16 at -5. He worked so hard just to qualify for this event after the USGA chose not to give him a special exemption. The Madison native got the support he deserved from the Wisconsin faithful, and I’m sure it will be one of the more special moments of his career. Now he looks ahead to his own tournament next weekend at the Am Fam Championship at University Ridge. This is the second year of this Champions Tour Event, which will feature Stricker, along with Vijay Singh, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, John Daly, and others.

Oh and Brett Favre and Derek Jeter will be there too…

It was an honor to cover the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills. This is the coolest event I’ve ever covered in my career…I’m glad I could share it with you.

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