Southampton, N.Y….For only the third time in the post-World War II era – and seventh time in 118 stagings – the U.S. Open has a repeat champion. Brooks Koepka, who won last year at Erin Hills by shooting 16 under par – finished 17 strokes higher at Shinnecock Hills, but a final-round 68 on Sunday was good enough for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood.
Koepka, who was sidelined for four months earlier this year due to ligament damage in his left wrist, is the first to successfully defend his crown since Curtis Strange 29 years ago, and in the same state. Strange, an on-course analyst for Fox Sports who won his second title at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., was one of the first to congratulate the 28-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., as he exited the 18th green. Koepka, now owner of four worldwide victories and No. 9 in the world, was then greeted by his girlfriend, Jena Sims, and other family and friends before making his triumph official in the scoring area.
World No. 1 and 2016 champion Dustin Johnson, who along with Koepka was one of four players who started the final round tied for the lead at 3 over par, mustered an even-par 70 playing alongside his good friend Koepka to finish third at 3-over 283. Reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed made an early run with a first-nine 31, but came home in 37 to finish fourth at 284. Tony Finau followed up Saturday’s 66 with a 2-over 72 for a fifth-place showing, four behind Koepka.
“It sounds incredible,” said Koepka of being a multiple U.S. Open champion. “To be honest with you, I probably couldn’t have dreamed of it in my wildest dreams. I’m at a loss for words right now, but it’s really incredible. I couldn’t be happier.”
A day after an extremely challenging setup humbled most of the 67 players who survived the 36-hole cut, the USGA set up the iconic William Flynn design a bit more conservatively. The result: the scoring average dipped a little more than three strokes, from 75.33 to 72.18.
Fleetwood, 27, of England, who started his final round 2 hours and 23 minutes before the final pairing of Finau and Daniel Berger teed off, came within a whisker of registering the lowest round in championship history. On a day when he converted eight birdie putts totaling 161 feet, his 8½-footer for No. 9 just curled off to the right on the par-4 18th.
His 63 was the sixth in U.S. Open history and just the second in a final round. Johnny Miller famously posted that score 45 years ago at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club to complete a six-stroke rally for the title.
“I thought if the conditions were a bit more like yesterday, I’d have felt a lot more comfy in the clubhouse,” said Fleetwood, who finished fourth last year. “I’d have felt I had a bit more of a chance.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for how well Brooks did, just to hole the putts at the right time. He kept it together, and he’s a world-class player.”
When Fleetwood posted his score, Koepka and the rest of Sunday’s contenders still had nine holes left. Shinnecock’s inward nine had not treated the former Florida State University All-American kindly over the first three rounds. Koepka was 6 over par, with just three birdies. And at the par-3 11th, he could have easily lost control of the steering wheel. Converting a 13-footer for bogey portended a stretch of clutch putts. He made a 6-footer for par on No. 12, and after hacking out of deep rough on the par-4 14th hole, he got up and down from 62 yards out, holing an 8½-footer for par to maintain his one-stroke edge.
The coup de grace was the 16th hole, a par 5 that none of the other players who finished in the top 10 managed to birdie, including Fleetwood. Koepka stuffed his wedge approach from 122 yards to 4 feet, which he converted for a two-stroke lead. Even a 72nd-hole bogey couldn’t prevent him from hoisting the trophy.
“It’s a fun week,” said Koepka. “I enjoy the test. I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy hard golf courses. I enjoy playing about the toughest in golf you are ever going to play.”