ERIN, Wis. — The inevitable nerves that come with contending in golf’s ultimate test didn’t bother 27-year-old Brooks Koepka.
Not even close.
Koepka made six birdies Sunday — including three straight on the back nine — and never let the pressure of the big stage deter him en route to winning the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Koepka’s 16-under total tied Rory McIlroy’s record (2011, Congressional) for lowest score in relation to par at a U.S. Open. He is the seventh consecutive first-time major winner.
“That’s about the best I’ve ever played,” he said after posting a five-under 67 to top left-hander Brian Harman and Japanese sensation Hideki Matsuyama by four shots. “I was striking it unbelievably, my speed control [on the greens] was great, and I was flighting the ball.”
Which was key Sunday in what were the gustiest conditions of the week on this long, exposed course.
Koepka had just one previous victory on the PGA Tour, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He also won once on the European tour. But he played like an unflappable veteran Sunday, and, really, all week.
“If you play a U.S. Open without making a double bogey, that’s pretty good,” he said.
The Florida native began the final round at 11 under and one shot behind Harman, the 54-hole leader. Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood also started Sunday at 11 under but fell off the pace early. Koepka started strong with birdies at 1 and 2, then added another at the 8th, all along leaning on words of encouragement he had received in a phone call from his close friend Dustin Johnson on Saturday evening.
“I thought about the phone call on the 14th tee today,” Koepka said, adding that Johnson told him “not to get ahead of myself.”
The mindset seemed to help. Koepka extended his lead to four with birdies on 14, 15 and 16.
Matsuyama started his round at six under but did his best to pressure the leaders, making birdies on 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18. That run put him alone in second place and one behind Koepka, who was through 13 holes. But Koepka birdied 14, 15 and 16 to pull away.
Harman, who has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at the Wells Fargo Championship last month, played the opening nine in one under but fell back with bogeys on 14 and 15. Up until this week, Harman had never even made the cut in a U.S. Open. But his runner-up finish didn’t lift his spirits. “I don’t believe in moral victories,” Harman said. “I had an opportunity today and I didn’t get it done.”
Thomas, fresh off his historic Saturday 63, couldn’t back up his third-round magic. He was done in by three bogeys and no birdies on the front nine Sunday.
Rickie Fowler started the day two shots off the lead and looking to win his first major title, but he couldn’t catch Koepka. He shot even-par 72 and finished at 10-under for tournament, six back of Koepka.
Koepka’s win was made that much sweeter in that it fell on Father’s Day. On Sunday evening the new champ said of his father Bob, “This will make up for the card that I didn’t get him.”