What we learned: 112th U.S. Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2012, 5:10 am

Each week, the GolfChannel.com team offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the most recent events and news developments. This week we learned that even Webb Simpson was surprised he won this year's U.S. Open. We also learned the name of a future major champion.

I learned that Webb Simpson has what it takes to win a major – and I learned that I’m not alone in figuring this out. Following his U.S. Open victory, even Simpson himself admitted, “If I was honest with you, I believed in myself I could win a major, but maybe not so soon.” Let’s face it: The third-year PGA Tour pro is really, really good – but winning a major championship requires more than talent. 

In 107 previous starts, he owned 22 top-10s, including a pair of victories, but that’s hardly reason to believe he had the stuff to start claiming the big ones so quickly. He proved it this week, though, posting scores of 68-68 on the weekend to move up from a share of 29th place to the man collecting the hardware on Sunday evening. The performance surprised me that it came so early in his major career and it surprised him, too. Don’t expect either of us to be shocked when it happens again. – Jason Sobel

I learned that Jason Dufner is destined to become the next American major champion. He fits the mold perfectly. The last 15 major champions have all been different and in that span there have been six Americans, including the last three of Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. Dufner is every bit as accomplished as these players and he’s played better the last two months than anyone else in the world. He also went around The Olympic Club in even par over the weekend to gut out a fourth-place tie. I knew he had game, now I know he has major game. – Jay Coffin

I learned all the fretting over Tiger Woods’ ball striking and new swing is misplaced. His short game might now be all that’s holding him back from another major championship victory.

I watched Woods struggle with his chipping at the Honda Classic in March, when he chunked or fluffed a surprising number of chips through the first three rounds there. If Woods would have gotten up and down with more proficiency at PGA National, Rory McIlroy would have been chasing him that Sunday rather than the other way around. Three months later, Woods’ wedge play and short game still aren't sharp. He’s unable to wipe out mistakes the way he consistently did with his putter.

The shot making is coming along nicely, but the short game lags behind. Yeah, it’s harder getting up and down from U.S. Open rough, but Webb Simpson won this major getting up and down at the 18th hole on Sunday. He did it from nearly the same place Woods awkwardly stubbed a chip the day before.

Woods didn’t lead the PGA Tour in scoring all those years because he made so many more birdies than everyone else. He led by getting up and down from all over the place, by wiping out mistakes better than anyone in the game. – Randall Mell

I learned time waits for no man, and neither does the U.S. Golf Association. Jim Furyk, 42, had a chance to win his second U.S. Open on Sunday at The Olympic Club and lock up a plaque in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He struggled through the day, but remained in the lead until his undoing in the final three holes. That demise may have been precipitated, in part, by a pace-of-play warning from the USGA.

An official from the USGA warned the final group of Furyk and Graeme McDowell about their pace for a second time on the tee at the par-3 15th. Furyk made par there, but then snap-hooked his tee shot at the par-5 16th. It resulted in bogey. He failed to birdie the par-5 17th and found his demise in a greenside bunker at the short 18th.

Not to say Furyk was unable to shake off the gentle prod, but he may have been distracted from the task at hand. The episode may have opened the door for another deliberate player, Webb Simpson, to win the U.S. Open. – Ryan Ballengee

I learned that the U.S. Golf Association and executive director Mike Davis have discovered the delicate formula for treading the line between unfair and unquestionably entertaining. Following last year’s record scoring at Congressional many feared the USGA would retaliate at The Olympic Club, but despite an over-par winning score and plenty of tales of carnage, there were few, if any, cries from the rank and file that the course was over the top. It’s a tough trick, but the USGA has figured it out. - Rex Hoggard

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”