Benign Erin Hills
As far as United States Open Championships go, this year’s edition was bizarre -- bizarrely benign, that is. Even with all the pot bunkers and bothersome fescues, the pride of Erin Hills in Wisconsin proved extremely inviting. En route to crowning onetime journeyman Brooks Koepka the best of the best, it gave way to a sea of red marks. Consider these: 31 -- yes, 31 -- players posted a tournament score under par, most of all time, with seven going negative double digits, more than in all the other stagings of the major stop put together.
Indeed, the course was bleeding, and not of the type those who follow the US Open are accustomed to. By the time its latest iteration became history, it brought with it Johnny Miller’s 44-year-old record for lowest score relative to par in a round; Justin Thomas now owns the distinction, having come up with a stellar third-round 63 capped by an eight-foot eagle putt on the whopping 667-yard 18th. The feat came with a provisional two-shot lead heading into yesterday’s finish; unfortunately, the four-year pro’s stroke turned ice cold, handing Koepka the perfect opportunity for a dramatic -- and, of course, record-breaking -- run.
Not that the US Open didn’t succeed in defying convention. Its evident bent to accommodate low numbers notwithstanding, it claimed the likes of defending titleholder Dustin Johnson and fellow Top 10 practitioners Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, and Jon Rahm as its victims. Such notables as Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Greame McDowell, and Billy Horschel were also gone by the weekend. The other usual suspects with sterling resumes failed to contend; of those with Grand Slam wins to speak of, newly minted Masters victor Sergio Garcia came closest at 21st overall.
All the same, the US Open got to reward the most deserving hopeful. If the silver chalice is in Koepka’s hands, it’s because he emerged the steadiest in the crunch. As late as midway through the final round, the hardware looked up for grabs, only to little by little slide into his grasp; he kept a tie for the lead with a knee-knocking par on the 13th, and then took it for good with birdies on the next three holes. His last putt on the 18th sealed a four-stroke margin, not to mention a future on the PGA Tour that, prior to a fourth-place finish in the same event three years ago, seemed unlikely. And given how he tamed Erin Hills, it looks to be a bright one.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.