Brooks Koepka’s major win traces back to Ryder Cup play

ERIN, Wis. — The back-to-back birdies to start the round were big. So, too, the shot out of the bunker on 14. And that birdie putt on 15 that kept everyone at bay? The definition of clutch.

Truth is, though, Brooks Koepka won his first major back in October.

If not for the crushing pressure of the Ryder Cup, Koepka wouldn’t be the new U.S. Open champion. Keeping your composure — and cushion of a lead — down the stretch will barely cause you to break a sweat after you’ve survived three days’ worth of jangling nerves and stomach in a constant state of free fall.

“The Ryder Cup was the first real taste of true pressure I think I’ve ever felt,” he said after his 4-stroke victory Sunday afternoon at Erin Hills. “And to be honest with you, this week I don’t think I ever got nervous, not at one point. I just stayed in the moment.”


Indeed, when he made his par putt on 18, he gave only a small fist pump.

It wasn’t until several minutes later, when he was in a golf cart heading back to scoring, that he buried his head in his hands, overcome with the enormity of both what he’d done and what he’d won.

“It’s probably the most emotion I ever showed coming down the stretch,” Koepka said in total seriousness. “It feels amazing to get my name on this trophy with so many other great names. It’s truly an honor.”

Koepka is the seventh consecutive first-timer to win a major, extending a run that started with Jason Day’s win at the 2015 PGA Championship. That the newbie trend would continue was all but a given; Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen were the only major winners to finish in the top 25, and neither was ever a factor Sunday.

To win a major takes talent, of course. But everyone out here has talent. What sets major champions apart is a steely resolve, an ability to block out the moment and all it represents, and will themselves past any distractions.

It sounds easy, but it is anything but when you’ve never done it before.

“I don’t feel as though I lost a golf tournament,” said Brian Harman, who finished in a tie for second. “I think Brooks went out and won the tournament.”

His 5-under 67 was the second-lowest round of the day. He made only one bogey. He missed only one green. His total score of 16-under matched the U.S. Open record set by Rory McIlroy in 2011.


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