ERIN, Wis. — With its 60-yard fairways and record-setting length, Erin Hills was ordained as a bomber’s course. We expected some of golf’s biggest names, and longest hitters, to tear it apart.
Rory McIlroy will dominate! Dustin Johnson shall destroy! Jason Day will flourish!
After 36 holes, we weren’t necessarily wrong. We looked for players who could find the bounding fairways and attack while avoiding the fescue. As we tend to do when previewing major championships, we focused on marquee names and forgot about other pros who fit the profile.
The most obviously overlooked name was Brooks Koepka.
Koepka is flashing exactly the game we thought McIlroy, Johnson and Day would display here at this 117th U.S. Open. But each of those three favorites missed the cut. Koepka entered this event ranked 5th on the Tour in driving distance, and he’s crushing tee shots all over Erin Hills, to an average of 324 yards. He’s also splitting those famously wide fairways (25 of 28). Add it up, and he’s in a four-way tie for the lead at seven under.
Every player on the leader board is following a similar script (albeit with less power). Each of the 12 players at seven, six or five under have hit 70 percent of their fairways. No one is spraying the ball off the tee and scrambling to success. Koepka is the leader in greens in regulation (30 of 36). He’s yet to hit anything longer than a seven-iron into a par-4.
The 27-year-old is ranked 22nd in the world, and if it weren’t for his 173rd-best driving accuracy this year, we might have paid attention sooner. On Thursday, Koepka told Fox he’s now so confident with the driver that he could “Swing as hard as I want.” That makes him more lethal than any player in contention. It also means that he’ll be hard to catch if he gets a lead, because he’s going to stay aggressive.
“The fairways are wide enough,” Koepka said, citing only a few holes where driver will stay in the bag. “There’s maybe two or three holes, but other than that it’s bombs away.”
As we anticipate a weekend of Koekpa bombs, remember for a moment the U.S. Open of one year ago, when D.J. launched drives all over Oakmont. On that Sunday afternoon, Shane Lowry, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and the rest of the field (plus a few USGA rules officials) could not rattle him. He was unflappable. Halfway home at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka is taking on a similar look.