Brooks Koepka reacts to a putt on the seventh hole during the final round of the U.S. Open on June 17, 2018, at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York.

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Liguori: Brooks Koepka's US Open Win Helped Restore Order At Shinnecock

Back-To-Back Champ Showed True Grit

Ann Liguori
June 18, 2018 - 9:42 am
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Brooks Koepka’s second straight U.S. Open win and his impressive confidence and shot-making became a much-welcomed ending to a controversial weekend.

On a beautiful Sunday at historic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Koepka became the seventh player to win consecutive U.S. Opens, the first since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. And attention shifted back to where it should be – to the packed leaderboard and Koepka grinding it out to win.

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The 28-year-old maintained a one-shot lead most of the afternoon. After his birdie on the par-5 16th, he headed to the 17th hole two shots ahead of Tommy Fleetwood, who had been waiting in the clubhouse after shooting a 7-under 63, which tied the lowest 18-hole score at the U.S. Open.

Koepka scrambled all day, sunk five birdies and three bogeys, and made impressive par saves and a crucial bogey save on the 11th, where he overcooked his tee shot. His second shot rolled over the green into a deep greenside bunker, and he two-putted for bogey.

“I felt like I made those clutch 8-to 10-footers that you need to make to kind of keep the ball, keep the momentum going,” said Koepka. “And I felt like, you know, we didn't drive it that great, but you can make up so much with a hot putter, and I feel like that's kind of what I was doing. Starting with the great bogey I made at 11, I think that was big because, from where we were, I want to say I would have taken double when we were in jail. You can't miss it there. To make that big of a mistake, you just want to walk away with bogey. Luckily, that putt went in, and that built some momentum coming down the stretch and made me feel a little bit better with the putter.”

On the 17th, Koepka stuck a wedge within 4 feet of the hole. It turns out he needed the two-shot cushion after bogeying the final hole to beat Fleetwood by one. He shot a 2-under 68 and won with a 1-over 281.

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Koepka showed that staying positive is the best answer when the going gets tough -- when the course and conditions become more than most can handle, when he needed to stay focused to close out his win and when his wrist injury earlier this season kept him out of the game for four months.

“It was very frustrating, sitting on the couch, not doing anything,” Koepka said of being sidelined by the injury. “You know, I couldn't pick anything up with my left hand. I was in a soft cast all the way up to my elbow. It wasn't fun. A lot of TV. I don't wish it upon anybody.”

When he was asked if he was surprised he was able to come back so quickly, he replied: “No. I mean, last year at the British, I think I played once from the U.S. Open to the British Open and then came out, and I think I had a piece of the lead. I don't need to practice every single day. It's the same game I've been playing for 24 years now. I know what I'm doing. I know how to swing a golf club. It's just a game that I've been playing my entire life. So, one week, one month isn't going to make a difference.”

He returned in May at the Wells Fargo and tied for 42nd. Koepka then played the Players Championship and tied for 11th. He took the next week off before finishing second at the Fort Worth Invitational, three shots back.

I learned a lot about Koepka this weekend and liked what I saw. He’s focused and quiet, and he's not a complainer.

“I always feel like I'm overlooked," said Koepka, who won last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills with a score of 16 under. “I could care less. It doesn't bug me. I just kind of keep doing what I'm doing, keep plugging away, kind of hide behind closed doors sometimes, which is nice, kind of the way I'd like to keep it. Sometimes it's kind of impossible.”

When asked about how he felt when he heard many of his fellow competitors complaining about the course setup and the tough hole locations Saturday, he said: “Everybody's got to play the same golf course. Yesterday probably should have been like it was today in hindsight, but it is what it is. You 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.

"You can't get away from it and start being negative. I feel like it gets some negative thoughts going. If you start complaining, you're looking for excuses. I'm not really one to make excuses.”  

Koepka has the right attitude. Maybe more players should follow his lead, especially the player who told everyone who questioned his bazaar antics on the 13th green on Saturday to “toughen up.”

Koepka is refreshing. He showed true grit with the way he handled everything on and off the course. And most important, his inspired performance and attitude brought order back to the game after such controversy the day before and a positive, more appropriate tone befitting the greatness of a U.S. Open at iconic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori