It was a strange weekend at Shinnecock Hills Golf Course in Southampton, NY at an event being played called the 2018 U.S. Open.
The headline is supposed to be Brooks Koepka. The man who benched over 200 pounds 15 times to play golf and swing an eleven-ounce club.
Koepka pulled away from a four-way tie for the lead with three birdies in five holes, holding off Tommy Fleetwood and his record-tying 63 and closed with a 2-under 68 for a 1-shot victory to become the first repeat U.S. Open champion in 29 years.
It was not smooth sailing for Koepka who played on four different golf courses over the weekend, more on that in a moment. Koepka stayed steady when he began his title defense with a 75 and was seven over par midway through the second round. He didn’t lose his mind in the most demanding third round of a U.S. Open in nearly two decades.
Koepka won with birdies on spacious Erin Hills in Wisconsin last year. This year at Shinnecock he battled the terrain of a tough golf course in this U.S. Open with a trinity of putts to escape trouble on the back nine — two for par, one for bogey. This is not including fans that were embarrassingly bad with the language used at every hole.
The USGA admitted the golf course was not up to the best standards to play; they tried to make up for it. Leadership was lacking from actually having a clear objective from setting up a golf course.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t think I could do it,” Koepka said. “But I knew that it was going to be that much more difficult. And to finally do it, it’s much more gratifying the second time. I can appreciate how hard it is to win a major.”
Shinnecock Hills was every bit of that, particularly Saturday, when conditions were so severe that the last 45 players to tee off a shot over par. The USGA conceded the course was over the top and pledged to add water to slow it down. Fleetwood raced into U.S. Open history with a 63 on Sunday, without making birdie on the two par-5s and missing an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole. It cost him a chance for a playoff.
Members at Shinnecock may not be too proud of their golf course Monday morning. But Curtis Strange, the last player to go back-to-back in this major in 1988 and 1989, watched the entire final round as the Fox Sports reporter on the ground, and they shared a brief hug off the 18th green.
Koepka moved to a career-best No. 4 in the world with his fifth victory, this one coming two months after he returned following torn tendons in his left wrist that kept him out the first part of the season, including the Masters.
Americans have won the past five majors — all of them in their 20s — and Koepka joined an elite group as only the seventh player to go back-to-back in what is regarded as golf’s toughest test.
Next year is Pebble Beach, and a chance to join Willie Anderson as the only player to win the U.S. Open three years in a row. Anderson earned his third straight in 1905. Ben Hogan won three straight that he played, missing the 1949 tournament after nearly getting killed when his car struck a bus. Next year, the topic will be raised going in however hopefully it overshadows a bizarre weekend.
Phil Mickelson is the story I will remember from the 2018 U.S. Open. Not Tiger Wood’s yacht, Koepka’s back-to-back win, the terrible golf course, it is Mickelson.
Mickelson was at the Par 4 13th hole, he had a putt for bogey, misses it, chase the golf ball while still moving, hits the ball and misses the putt again. The broadcasters, the gallery, and social media all stunned. He would receive a two-stroke penalty for hitting the ball before it stopped moving. His playing partner Andrew Johnston could only laugh himself. Just bizarre on top of an odd weekend of golf.
“That’s one of the strangest things I have ever seen,” Johnston said. “Then I started laughing, to be honest, and then said I’m sorry boss I’ve got to laugh at this.
Mickelson shoots an 81(+11) in the 3rd round, his worst U.S. Open round of his career. On 13 went six over on the hole to score a 10.
“If somebody is offended by that I apologize to them but toughen up this is not meant that way,” Mickelson said. “I just wanted to get on to the next hole, and I did not see that happening at the time.
What Phil did is something we don’t see from him usually do. He is a world-class golfer, yes John Daly did something similar at the 1999 U.S. Open on the 8th hole, but you have to pause and say, “that is Mickelson who just did that.” It will stay with him a while moreover he could have been disqualified from the tournament.
“How could you not laugh it is funny. It is part of the U.S. Open it is funny,” Mickelson added. “I don’t mean it disrespectful; I’m sorry if you are taking it that way, that’s not the way it is meant.”
Some are still laughing some are not; when it is outside the norm, it is bizarre.