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CLAYTON: Hail Brooks, for now at least

Brooks Koepka
The world's golf media cranes to get that magical image of Brooks Koepka with the US Open trophy and the course he conquered, Erin Hills.

If Brooks Koepka was a golf course, he would be Erin Hills.

The new US Open champion is muscled, strong, and long and he found a course in rural Wisconsin with his name stamped all over it.

Koepka’s game is what modern professional golf has turned into and this new course was made to test – and restrain – the skill and length of this new generation.

Stretched out it reaches 8000 yards – such are the lengths course designers have to go to in order to recreate the tests passed by the great players of the past. Still, on the third day, Koepka hit nothing longer than a seven-iron into a par four.

Erin Hills was wide enough to allow for some freedom from the tee and the strategy involved more than simply hitting the fairway and avoiding the long grass.

Just as importantly, there was an abundance of short shots around the green played off short grass. Some complained about the bunkers and the possibility of a few odd lies and stances, but they missed the point. Standard tour bunkers are no longer the hazards they used to be and the predictably dull result is to grow long grass as a way of punishing a missed green. Anything suggesting there is a better way is a good thing and Erin Hills greens complexes showed off a proper variety of short shots.

The question for the USGA officals is, did they enjoy having their sacred “par” shattered by a field of the best players in the game?

Unusually for a US Open, the par was 72; made so by some huge par fives even the longest had to smash a couple of woods to reach in two.

Mind you, Koepka drove almost 350m with a three-wood off the 18th tee today, so not even a par five in excess of 600m is long enough to contain men as big and strong as the champion.

“It was kind of, `Bombs away’,” Koepka said of the test from the tee.

For a while it looked like it might be a close finish, especially after Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama birdied the 18th for 276. Koepka, back on the 14th hole needed to par in for 275 and many a good man has faltered when faced with something as daunting as playing the last handful of holes in a US Open in par figures.

The American’s answer was to birdie the 14th to give him some space, the 15th to provide real comfort and then the par-three 16th to take all the air out of the championship.

The final two holes were merely a triumphant walk back to the clubhouse.

Matsuyama’s second-place tie with Brian Harmon matched Japanese great Isao Aoki, the runner-up behind Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 Open at Baltusrol.

Australians all understand how much Adam Scott’s win at Augusta meant to the country, but we can only imagine how Japan feels waiting for just one major champion – or the pressure on Matsuyama to be that man?

Koepka took a somewhat unusual path for a young American by taking his game to Europe, playing the secondary Challenge Tour, winning three times and earning his privileges on the main tour. He spent a couple of seasons travelling and developing both his game and, not unimportantly, his bank account.

It used to be the traditional path for all the best non-American players and those who were good enough and so inclined gravitated across the Atlantic. Greg Norman, Nick Price, Jack Newton, Adam Scott, Ian Baker-Finch and all the great Europeans of the Ballesteros generation thought of Europe as an important education.

For young Australians, the modern way seems to be to eschew playing in Europe and head to the United States where the Web.Com Tour is the way to the big show.

It’s a trap for young players to get themselves caught on “the Web” playing for much less money than in Europe (or, indeed, Japan) and playing one-dimensional golf courses doing little to really advance their game.

Perhaps Koepka’s success shows a different path?

This is the post-Tiger Woods era and players who grew up observing his play and shaping their games around his example dominate it. Woods, though, was so great he was able to dominate the major championships for a decade.

We are now seemingly back to the pre-Woods period when they are won randomly by a wide range of players who find great form for a week and a course suited to their eye and their game.

Aside from Rory, none of this generation has won more than two and we wonder who will be the one to stand above the rest.

Did we see him emerge today? That is the question.


Comments

Posted by John E at
22/06/2017 06:47 PM
I am unsure that, despite the positives of this year's event, the USGA will be pleased their "Ultimate Test" turned into a championship where pars lost ground far too often. Length alone cannot protect golf courses from modern technology. If nothing else, this year's US Open Championship has proven that.
Posted by marc dwyer at
21/06/2017 10:11 AM
interesting one of the hardest holes was the 15th short par four bring back angles and better course design

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