Perhaps if Brooks Koepka goes on to become a big name in his sport, which golf people have been forecasting as a possibility for the last few years, we’ll all remember this as the U.S. Open at which a star was born.
And certainly the 27-year-old played like one when it counted most, birdieing three straight holes — Nos. 14, 15, and 16 — to give himself a stress-free finish for his first major.
But I have to say, at least in present-time, Koepka’s impressive game wasn’t enough to make this U.S. Open particularly memorable. In truth, it was pretty disappointing for the average golf fan.
After all, it’s the one tournament all year where you’re practically guaranteed to see the best players in the world struggle like the rest of us hackers at times. That’s a big part of the appeal, so the last thing you want to see is a John Deere Open break out, at least in terms of scoring.
Basically, in fact, I sit down to watch the U.S. Open on Sunday hoping it delivers in three ways:
1. Star power.
Unfortunately, the first-ever Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin gave us little to none of the above.
For starters, the golf course played far easier than the USGA anticipated, and for a governing body that is often accused of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment at the U.S. Open, it had to be painful watching birdies rule the week — all the way to Koepka’s 16-under par tying the lowest score in tournament history.
To think the week began with players whining about the penal nature of the knee-high fescue, to the point where the USGA responded by trimming the length of it on some holes.
Never mind that the fairways were 50 to 60 yards wide, the widest ever at a U.S. Open, which allowed bombers like Koepka to blast away with driver with little fear.
Problem was the USGA set up those wide fairways expecting wind to make conditions difficult, but the wind barely blew at all until Sunday. That and rain during the week, which softened the greens and allowed players to fire at the pins, made Erin Hills play more like your average PGA Tour stop than a U.S. Open.
All of which made the disappearance of the world’s best players especially hard to explain.
Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy, the top three-ranked players in the world, all missed the cut, and Jordan Spieth was never a factor on Sunday.
Throw in the fact that Phil Mickelson stayed home in southern California to attend his daughter’s high school graduation, and by the weekend this was a tournament starving for star power.
Mickelson was especially missed. Even at age 47 he is the most entertaining golfer in the game, and his quest to finally win a U.S. Open, after six second-place finishes, is always a compelling storyline at this tournament. Furthermore, those extra-wide fairways sure seemed made for his erratic driver.
Put it this way: if he’d had half that much margin for error at Winged Foot 11 years ago, Mickelson would have waltzed home with the win rather than making double bogey on the 72nd hole and famously saying, "I am such an idiot."
In any case, by Sunday Rickie Fowler was the biggest name on the leaderboard, and he’s a star largely for his appeal to young fans as the Puma guy who wears loud colors, including his Okahoma State-orange pants on Sunday.
Fowler hasn’t won a major yet, but his brand is such that so you can bet the TV folks at FOX were hoping he at least took Koepka and whoever else to the wire.
But Fowler couldn’t make a run on Sunday, nor could Justin Thomas, an overnight sensation after shooting 63 on Saturday, and fairly early on the back nine the tournament was coming down to Koepka, the little lefty Brian Harman, and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama.
However, Matsuyama finished an hour ahead of the other two, Harman began to falter a bit, and Koepka then seized the moment with those three straight birdies for a brilliant finish.
In doing so he sure looked like a star in the making. It was only his second-ever win in the U.S., in part because it took Koepka years of playing around the world on lesser Tours to finally make it to the big stage of the PGA Tour.
Obviously he has all the shots, so maybe this is just the start for him, and over the next few years he’ll be that Next Big Thing whose name brings people to the TV.
On Sunday, however, he was just the guy who won by four strokes and made it look easy, which left me and, I’m guessing, a lot of people hoping that when the U.S. Open comes to Shinnecock Hills in the Hamptons next year, it brings back the misery. And drama. And star power.
Any order will do.