The Shark Payne and Tiger at Memorial
Normans presence on the world scene in the 1980s and through the first part of the 1990s was electric. He brought a flair and a physicality unmatched by any player and when he flashed those white teeth beneath the brim of his trademark hat he made the guys want to have a beer with him and the ladies want to run away to the Outback with him. But personality alone doesnt ensure entry into golfs loftiest shrine. The record counts. And while Norman let all-time destiny kick him in the groin on far too many occasions, he did bag a pair of British Opens, 18 PGA Tour victories and 56 worldwide. Ultimately, when I take my two boys to the Hall of Fame, I can imagine theyll ask me, Daddy, why did they call that guy the great white shark? I look forward to telling them.
One of Gregs contemporaries, the late, great Payne Stewart, was also rightfully elected to the Hall on 67.5% of the ballots (65% is needed for entry), along with Judy Bell, Karsten Solheim, and the man widely regarded as the first golf professional, Allan Robertson. Donna Caponi was recently elected, while Berhard Langer will defer his induction to 2002 due to a prior commitment. But Novembers ceremony figures to be emotional and star studded.
The memories came rushing back here today as Payne was honored in a moving tribute. Payne thrived on days just like this one, when there was something special in the air, when the golf course was as pure and challenging as this one is, when there was a show to do and not just a round to play. And so we find ourselves missing the high jinx he no doubt would have brought to the clinic, the reverence he would have shown for the great man, Jack Nicklaus, and the course he built. In the right mood, of course, Payne was extraordinary for his quotability and so we can only imagine what he would have said about the gargantuan achievements of Tiger Woods. Or the upcoming Ryder Cup he loved so deeply.
The Memorial Tournament honors Payne Stewart
When he left us inexplicably he was just then growing sagely into the role of fiery elder statesman, the absolute rarity who could draw upon the experience of actually having beaten Tiger Woods in a major championship. Would that Payne Stewart put an arm around Phil Mickelson, or David Duval or Davis Love III and encourage them to keep fighting? Naturally we dont know, but we have a pretty good idea. Because so memorable was the guy that all you have to do is set your mind to thinking about it, and you hear him and clear as day you can see him'the laugh, the Cheshire cat grin, that high pitch twang. We still hear you Payne. We still do.
Tiger Woods recalled his fishing trips to Ireland with Payne. He was always the life of the party, said Tiger. Woods of course is front and center here again at The Memorial. If he prevails, hell be the first since Tom Watson won the Byron from 1978-80 to win the same event three years in a row. That hes been successful at the course Jack built is no surprise. Like Nicklaus, Tigers long, a high ball hitter and fully capable of getting inside the heads of his opponents. Tiger says that Muirfield Village, Cog Hill for The Western, and Firestone set up as well for him as any venues on Tour. Then again, can you name many courses which dont set up well for him?
As for the condition, it is, according to Tiger, perfect. Theyve endured, as they always seem to do, quite a bit of rain here the last several weeks. But the course drains extremely well and the hope is that by moving the event back a week and closer to June, they may escape the kind of wet weather which has plagued this tournament for 33 of the total 100 rounds going back to its inception in 1976.
David Duval would have liked to be here, but a friend is getting married so hes not in the field. Davis Love continues to battle neck problems while Phil Mickelson has decided that he likes playing the week before The U.S. Open, so hell skip Memorial and play Memphis. Had he played here and next week, he wouldve gone seven straight weeks through The U.S. Open.
Even without those heavyweights, this week ranks as one of the most special on Tour. When Scott Hoch was asked if this was one of the best tournaments of the year, he replied, No, its not one of the best, its the best. Very much like the man who hosts it every year, and the man whos won it the last two.
U.S. Open purse payout: Koepka clears $2 million
Brooks Koepka successfully defended his title at the U.S. Open and he was handsomely rewarded for his efforts. Here's a look at how the purse was paid out at Shinnecock Hills.
|T25||Charles Howell III||+12||$79,200|
|T36||Rafa Cabrera Bello||+13||$54,054|
|T48||Luis Gagne (a)||+16||$0|
|T48||Matt Parziale (a)||+16||$0|
|66||Will Grimmer (a)||+23||$0|
|67||Byeong Hun An||+26||$23,470|
What's in the bag: U.S. Open winner Koepka
Brooks Koepka won his second consecutive U.S. Open title on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills. Here's a look inside the winner's bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 70 TX shaft
Fairway woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees), with Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80 TX shaft
Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3), with Fujikura Pro 95 Tour Spec shaft; Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts, PW with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shaft
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Repeat U.S. Open win gives Koepka credit he deserves
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In an ironic twist Sunday, the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens was tasked with chronicling Brooks Koepka’s final round at Shinnecock Hills.
Carrying a microphone for Fox Sports, Curtis Strange kept his composure as the on-course reporter. He didn’t cough in Koepka’s downswing. Didn’t step on his ball in the fescue. Didn’t talk too loudly while Koepka lined up a putt.
Instead, Strange stood off to the side, clipboard covering his mouth, and watched in awe as Koepka stamped himself as the best U.S. Open player of this next generation.
And so after Koepka became the first player in 29 years to take consecutive Opens, Strange found himself fourth in the greeting line near the 18th green. He was behind Koepka’s playing competitor, Dustin Johnson. And he was behind Koepka’s father, Bob. And he was behind Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott.
But there Strange was, standing on a sandy path leading to the clubhouse, ready to formally welcome Koepka into one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.
“Hell of a job, bud,” Strange barked in his ear, above the din. “Incredible.”
That Koepka prevailed on two wildly different layouts, and in totally different conditions, was even more satisfying.
Erin Hills, in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., was unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory. The wide-open fairways were lined with thick, deep fescue, but heavy rain early in the week and the absence of any significant wind turned golf’s toughest test into the Greater Milwaukee Open. Koepka bashed his way to a record-tying score (16 under par) and over the past year has never felt fully appreciated, in large part because of the weirdness of the USGA setup.
Koepka doesn’t concern himself with that type of noise, of course, but when he arrived at Shinnecock earlier this week he felt a sense of familiarity. The generous fairways. The punishing venue. The premium on iron play.
“It’s a similar feel,” Elliott said. “We said it all week.”
A new, quirky venue like Erin Hills might not have been held in high regard, but the rich history of Shinnecock? It demanded respect.
“He’s some player,” Strange said, “and I’m proud of him because there was some talk last year of Erin Hills not being the Open that is supposed to be an Open. But he won on a classic, so he’s an Open player.”
“This one is a lot sweeter,” Koepka said.
Those around the 28-year-old were shocked that he even had a chance to defend his title.
Last fall Koepka began feeling discomfort in his left wrist. He finished last in consecutive tournaments around the holidays, then underwent an MRI that showed he had a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Koepka takes immense pride in having a life outside of golf – he never watches Tour coverage on off-weeks – but he was downright miserable during his indefinite stint on the sidelines. He said it was the lowest point of his career, as he sat in a soft cast up to his elbow, binge-watching TV shows and gaining 15 pounds. The only players he heard from during his hiatus: Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
“You just feel like you get forgotten,” Koepka said.
During the spring, Elliott would occasionally drive from Orlando to Jupiter, Fla., to check on his boss. “He was down in the dumps,” he said. “That sort of injury he had, it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end. There was no timeframe on it, and that was the most frustrating thing.”
After the Masters, Koepka told Elliott that his wrist was feeling better and that he was going to start hitting balls. Elliott brought his clubs to South Florida, and they played a few holes at The Floridian.
“He was hitting it right on the button,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He hadn’t missed a beat. I have no idea how he does it. He’s just a tremendously talented guy.”
In limited action before the Open, Koepka fired a trio of 63s, at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. He’s never been short on confidence – as a 12-year-old he once told his dad that he was going to drop out of school in four years and turn pro – and he recently woofed to swing coach Claude Harmon III that he was primed to win sometime in May or June.
“I said to him on the range this morning, ‘You were on your couch in January and February, not really knowing if you were going to be able to play here,’” Harmon said. “I think that’s why it means so much to him. That’s one of the reasons that he kept saying no one was more confident than him, because to get this opportunity to come back and play and have a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, he was going to take advantage of it as best he could.”
Koepka carded a second-round 66 to put himself in the mix, then survived a hellacious third-round setup to join a four-way tie for the lead, along with Johnson, the world No. 1 and his fellow Bash Brother.
As much as Johnson is praised for his resilience, Koepka has proven to be equally tough in crunch time, especially in this major. There’s no better stage for Koepka to showcase his immense gifts than the Open, an examination that tests players physically, mentally and even spiritually. But Koepka, like Johnson, never joined the growing chorus of complainers at Shinnecock. The closest he came to criticizing the setup was this: “I think the course is very close.”
Rather than whine, he said that he relished the challenge of firing away from flags. He accepted bad shots. He tried to eliminate double bogeys. Even after his wrist injury, Koepka showed no hesitation gouging out of the deep fescue, his ferocious clubhead speed allowing him to escape the rough and chase approach shots near the green, where he could rely on his sneaky-good short game.
“He has the perfect game to play in majors,” Harmon said. “He probably plays more conservatively in majors. We’re always joking that we wish he would play the way he does in majors every week. I just think he knows how important pars and bogeys are. It says a lot about him as a player.”
Johnson has many of the same physical and mental attributes, and they’ve each benefited from the other’s intense focus and discipline. They both adhere to a strict diet and are frequent workout partners, which even included a gym session on Sunday morning, before their penultimate pairing. They made small talk, chatting about lifting and how many of the Sunday pins were located in the middle of the green, but after they arrived at the course they barely said two words to each other.
“They’re good friends on and off the course,” Harmon said, “but they definitely want to kick the s--- out of each other.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Strange said. “If they’re best buddies, well, you’re standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for him for 4 1/2 hours.”
There was much at stake Sunday, but none more significant than Koepka’s march on history. Squaring off head-to-head against the game’s best player, Koepka outplayed Johnson from the outset, going 3 under for the first 10 holes to open up a two-shot lead. And unlike at Erin Hills, where he pulled away late with birdies, it was his par (and bogey) saves that kept Koepka afloat on Nos. 11, 12 and 14.
In the end, he clipped Fleetwood (who shot a record-tying 63) by one and Johnson by two.
“You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Strange said, shaking his head. “He’s got a lot of guts.”
As Koepka marched away to sign his card, Strange was asked if it was bittersweet to know that he’s no longer the answer to the trivia question, the last guy to go back-to-back at the Open.
“Heck no!” he said. “What are they going to do, take one away? I’m a part of a group. And it’s a good group. I hope it means as much to him as it has to me.”
This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.
His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.
“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”
The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.
There was also one other similarity.
“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.
“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”