Major breakthrough: Brooks Koepka claims US Open title
Major breakthrough: Brooks Koepka claims US Open title
Koepka broke away from a tight pack with three straight birdies on the back nine Sunday at Erin Hills and closed with a 5-under 67 to win the US Open for his first major championship. A par on the final hole tied Rory McIlroy’s record score to par at 16 under for a four-shot victory.
Not even the wind could stop the onslaught of low scores at Erin Hills.
And nothing could stop Koepka.
“What I’ve done this week is amazing,” Koepka.
Tied for the lead with six holes to play, Koepka made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole. As Brian Harman began to fade, Koepka poured it on with birdies over the next three holes, lightly pumping his fist after each one.
His reaction was subdued, just like his close friend and last year’s US Open champion, Dustin Johnson. They spend time a lot of time together on the course, in the gym and at home, so Koepka has seen that US Open trophy plenty at Johnson’s house in south Florida.
And now he gets to keep it for a year, with his name on it.
It capped quite a journey for the 27-year-old Floridian. Without a card on any tour when Koepka got out of Florida State, he filled his passport with stamps from the most unlikely outposts in golf while playing the minor leagues on the European Tour — Kazakhstan and Kenya, Portugal and India and throughout Europe.
It was at the US Open three years ago when Koepka tied for fourth that helped earn a PGA Tour card, and he powered his way from obscurity to his first PGA Tour victory in Phoenix, his first Ryder Cup team last fall and now a major championship.
Harman’s chances ended with two straight bogeys, and a bogey on the par-5 18th hole gave him a 72 and a tie for second with Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who closed with a 66. Matsuyama did not need to stick around very long. Koepka simply could not miss.
Koepka, who finished at 16-under 272, became the seventh straight first-time winner of a major championship, and it was the first time since 1998-2000 that Americans won their national championship three straight years.
Tommy Fleetwood, who played alongside Koepka and closed with a 72 to finish fourth, played the Challenge Tour a year before Koepka arrived.
“It gives you a good grounding,” Fleetwood said. “Obviously, Brooks dealt with it amazingly. He came and kicked everyone’s (behind) over there, didn’t he? But he’s proven for a long time how good he is. Now he’s done it in a major.”
It was only fitting that Koepka left Erin Hills with yet another record matched or broken.
McIlroy finished at 16-under 268 when he won on rain-softened Congressional in the 2011 US Open. But the low scoring went much deeper than that. Only six players had ever reached double digits under par in the previous 116 times at the US Open. McIlroy and Tiger Woods (12 under at Pebble Beach in 2000) had been the only players to finish there.
This week alone, nine players reached at least 10 under and seven finished there.
Xander Schauffele, a rookie on the PGA Tour playing in his first US Open, birdied his last hole for a 69 to tie for fifth at 10-under 268 along with Bill Haas (69) and Rickie Fowler (72), who was poised at yet another major to win only to fall back. Fowler started one shot out of the lead at the Masters this year and shot 76. He was only two behind when he made the turn, but bogeys on the 12th and 15th holes — and no birdies until No. 18 — ended his hopes.
Justin Thomas, coming off a 9-under 63 that matched the major championship scoring record and was the first 9-under round at a US Open, went out in 39 and closed with a 75 to tie for ninth.
The week ended with 31 players under par, breaking the US Open record of 28 players at Medinah in 1990. There were 133 sub-par rounds, nine more than the previous record in that 1990 US Open.
Erin Hills, an 11-year-old course shaped out of Wisconsin pastureland, did not put up much of a fight without much wind. The strongest gusts were Sunday morning and it tapered to a strong breeze by the afternoon.
No one was more solid from start to finish than Koepka. He opened with a pair of tap-in birdies and putted for birdie on every hole but the par-3 13th. Of all his birdies, that 8-foot par putt might have been as big as any.
“I needed something to go in and see that to build momentum off it, and just carried that over,” Koepka said.
Mohamed Salah’s brilliance and impact better seen off-pitch than on it
- Jurgen Klopp praises the positive impact Mohamed Salah has had on attitudes towards Islam and the Arab World
- Salah has 43 goals in all competitions this season and is a serious Ballon d'Or contender
LONDON: “Mohamed Salah is the best footballer in the world at the moment,” “Salah is up there with Messi and Ronaldo,” “Salah has the world at
In a world ever more prone to hyperbole and after yet another masterclass from the Egyptian ace, it is not surprising that such grandiose statements get bandied about with the regularity of a Salah goal. The 25-year-old was simply sublime during Liverpool’s 5-2 destruction of Roma on Tuesday night.
He has now scored 43 times this season, has a genuine chance of winning the Ballon d’Or, and with every match looks more deserving of the superstar mantle his admirers have given him.
But while we can sit back and marvel at his talent, all those tributes are perhaps missing the point. We can debate whether he is a world-beater on the pitch, but what is not in doubt is that Salah is a game-changer off it — and that is the true mark of just how impressive he has been since moving to Liverpool.
Go to Anfield for any match now and, once the rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has died down, it is likely you will next hear the Liverpool fans’ hymn to Salah. Sung to the tune of “Good Enough” by Britpop band Dodgy, it goes like this: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim, too.” Such is the “Salah effect.”
Britain is a hugely fractured country at the moment. The Brexit vote and debate surrounding it has held up a mirror to an island ill at ease with itself, with regressive attitudes to race, religion and immigration out in the open.
That Salah has been welcomed with open arms and lauded in that climate — albeit in a city with a proud tradition of tolerance — is quite something, not least at a time when Islamaphobic attacks in the UK are on the rise and when, as recently as 2016, a national newspaper ran a headline that claimed “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis.”
The context of the Salah worship evident not just in Liverpool, but also around the country has not been lost on his manager, Jurgen Klopp.
“(The hero status of Salah) is fantastic. It’s exactly what we need in these times,” the German told Channel 4 News.
“To see this wonderful young man, full of joy, full of love, full of friendship, full of everything, in a world where we all struggle a little bit to understand all the things happening around on this planet — so it’s just fantastic.
“He is a Muslim and he is doing all the things that Muslims are doing before a game, washing procedures and stuff like that … like Sadio (Mane) by the way, like Emre Can, by the way; they all do that. Nobody says what we have to be…
“Now we wait, that’s completely normal in a team and that’s how in an ideal world the world would work; we all try to understand each other and deal with all the little strange things for the one or the other.”
Sport sometimes aims for profundity when there is none. Witness any stomach-churning statement of national brilliance during an Olympics, or any underdog story, and you will find people deriving a lot more from some match than the simple “team scores more to win game” narrative that is most set in reality.
But the “Salah effect” has prompted real change off the pitch. From fans singing “I’ll be a Muslim, too” to appreciating the Liverpool talisman simply as a great player regardless of background, the “Egyptian King” is a genuine role model for his country, the region and Islam at a time when the world needs it most.
“We are all kind of ambassadors and sometimes we fit to that role and sometimes not, and at the moment Mo is the perfect ambassador for Egypt, for the whole Arabic world. I love that,” Klopp said.
So it is immaterial whether Salah wins the Champions League for Liverpool, beats Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or or leads Egypt deep in the World Cup — he has already done more than most footballers do.
Should the positive image of both Arabs and Muslims he has created endure, then that will be his true mark of greatness.