Southampton (United States) (AFP) – Brooks Koepka was practically the last name on anyone’s lips at the 118th US Open on Thursday — but that didn’t matter when he hoisted the trophy for a second straight year on Sunday.
“I always feel like I’m overlooked. It doesn’t bug me. I just keep doing what I’m doing, keep plugging away,” said Koepka, who despite his defending champion status was flying under the radar at Shinnecock Hills, where Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, world number one Dustin Johnson and multiple major winner Rory McIlroy were generating pre-tournament buzz.
Some thought Koepka’s US Open triumph at Erin Hills last year was an anomaly — coming on a non-traditional championship venue where the wide-open fairways were easy pickings for a long-hitter like Koepka.
And since his major breakthrough the 28-year-old had missed almost four months — including the Masters in April — with a partially torn ligament in his left wrist.
There’s no doubt now, however, that Koepka is back, and he has proved his major mettle on the toughest test the US Open can offer.
After four grinding days at Shinnecock Hills — which first hosted a US Open in the 19th century — it was Koepka who topped the leaderboard with a one-over par total.
Woods and McIlroy were long gone by then — missing the halfway cut.
Johnson, masterful in building a four-stroke lead through 36 holes, came back to the field during the brutal third round — when Mickelson underscored his irrelevance with a silly rules infraction.
As Koepka emerged from a tightly bunched field on Sunday, Johnson simply couldn’t keep pace.
Even Tommy Fleetwood with a stunning 63 couldn’t run Koepka down.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew that it was going to be that much more difficult,” Koepka said of winning a second major.
“It’s much more gratifying the second time. I can really appreciate how hard it is to win a major, and to win back-to-back is special.”
– ‘Got to be competing’ –
Koepka, who has now finished 14th or better — with two wins — in nine of his last 10 major starts, was running hot with a streak of eight straight US PGA Tour top-20 finishes when his wrist injury sidelined him.
“I didn’t miss it until I knew I wasn’t going to be at Augusta,” he said. “When I knew I wasn’t going to be at Augusta, probably about a week before, I really did miss it.
“I missed the preparation. I miss competing. I’ve got to be competing at something. It doesn’t matter what it is. I just feel like I need to be out grinding.”
He has barely missed a beat in his return, finishing tied for 11th at the Players Championship last month and runner-up at the Fort Worth Invitational with three rounds of 67 or better as he warmed up for his title defense.
Now that he’s a multiple major winner, Koepka — who jumped from ninth to fourth in the world golf rankings with his win — is unlikely to be flying under the radar when any major comes around.
“A US Open is always going to be a tough test,” he said. “The Open Championship I think suits (my game) very well, and we always seem to play good at the PGA.
“The only one I haven’t figure out is Augusta — hopefully I’ll figure that one out soon.”