Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open 2017 Victory Shows Up Golf’s Weakness in Post Tiger Woods Era

The night before he battered his ball for the fourth and final day around the wide fairways of Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka took a phone call from Dustin Johnson.

“Dustin actually called me on Saturday night and told me to take one shot at a time, just to stay patient,” Koepka said. “It was a case of ‘just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to win the thing. Just don’t get ahead of yourself’.

“It was a long phone call for us; it was like two minutes. But he just said a few things, about just staying patient. And that I’ll win if I stay patient and just keep doing what I’m doing.”

It must have worked. Koepka stayed patient and calm and outlasted the field, including a charging Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler, who fell away to finish tied for fifth in another major disappointment.

Down the field and out of view, Johnson had the quietest of tournaments for a man usually surrounded by noise of the good and bad variety. The 32-year-old ended the weekend in Wisconsin tied for 92nd.

There was drama as Koepka produced a final round of 67 to hold off Brian Harman, the 30-year-old Georgian, albeit of the purists’ variety. Harman’s previous best finish in a major was tied for 26th at the British Open in 2014. Besides the enigmatic Fowler and Matsuyama, the top ten was made up from a collection of American journeymen and those with more promise than fame, in Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele.

They would never admit as much, but one wonders whether the good members of the United States Golf Association might have secretly wished for Johnson, and not the impressively unflappable Koepka, to be on the end of the pep talk on Saturday evening.

Koepka’s path is unusual enough that he may be more familiar to a European golf public than his countrymen. Born in West Palm Beach, he attended Florida State University before making his way through the Challenge Tour and then the European Tour.

There may be more majors to come for Koepka—as there may for Danny Willett, who shot an 81 then withdrew before the start of the second round with back pain.

They are two of the past seven major winners. Each of those tournaments have been won by a different man, dating back to Jason Day’s victory at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2015.

There is an argument that a level, almost random playing field increases excitement in a tournament. It also, indisputably, makes rivalries difficult to form and sustain.

There was no chance for a final-day shootout on Sunday between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. The American finished strongly but McIlroy had long since missed the halfway cut, before getting drawn into an unseemly Twitter spat with Steve Elkington.

In the post Tiger Woods-void there were possibilities for a group of elite players to establish hegemony. It seems the opposite has happened, which creates a headache for anyone attempting to sell a golfer as Woods was sold for so many years before scandal and injury put buffers on his career. The best thing for Koepka, of course, would be to go on a run of victories in majors. Perhaps it would be best for the game of golf, too.

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