SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka made his high school golf team at Wellington Christian in South Florida at the precocious age of 12. On the drive home from his first match, after shooting a 41 for nine holes, young Brooks informed his parents of his life plan: he was going to drop out of school in about four years and turn pro.
Bob Koepka pulled the car to the side of the road and supplied an immediate reality check.
“You’re going to go to high school,” Bob told Brooks. “You’re going to college. And then if you’re good enough, you can turn pro.”
The car pullover lecture is a quintessential Dad Move, and Bob Koepka told the story of it Sunday evening while enjoying the best Father’s Day of his life. He told the story not far from the 18th green at Shinnecock Hills, where he hugged his son when he walked off with a second straight U.S. Open. His boy went to high school, went to college (Florida State), and now has become the first repeat Open champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
Bob and Brooks’ stepmom, Sherry, missed last year’s victory at Erin Hills, watching it on TV at home when they couldn’t find lodging within 30 miles of the course. They weren’t going to miss this one.
“He’s the one who got me started in golf,” Brooks said. “It’s so cool to have him here this week.”
They were present to see “Back-to-Back Brooks” live out the lesson Bob delivered on the side of the road 16 years ago: One step at a time.
There was no shortcut to pro golf at age 16, and there are no shortcuts to winning a U.S. Open. Especially this U.S. Open, on a merciless course that refused to allow a single golfer to break par for the tournament. Grandiose visions of a birdie avalanche are a waste of time. Winning at Shinnecock required laser focus on finding fairways, hitting greens and rolling putts, one hole after another.
“Keep parring it to death,” Koepka said.
If pars lack flair, well, so does Koepka. He’s as emotional as a fish on the course.
“He has the perfect demeanor for what he does,” Sherry Koepka said.
Parring the course to death was a markedly different approach to last year’s Open, when Erin Hills rolled over and played dead. Koepka shot 16-under par there, a heretical number in a championship that traditionally mauls the golfers.
Winning a second straight Open is wildly impressive, something accomplished only by Koepka, Strange and Ben Hogan since the 1930s. Winning a second straight Open in a completely different manner than the first one is a stamp of greatness for the 28-year-old Koepka.
When he won in 2017, plenty of people downplayed the victory as the result of an overly compliant course. That was music to his ears.
“I always feel like I’m overlooked,” he said afterward. “I couldn’t care less. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Said Bob: “He knows how to put that little chip on his shoulder. Anytime you put a challenge in front of him, he has a way of stepping up.”
There is no downplaying this Open title, no dismissing it as a product of a gimmicky course. Shinnecock dismissed Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth on Friday, provoked Phil Mickelson to break the rules on Saturday and then bowed down to Brooks Koepka on Sunday.
It sure didn’t look like this repeat would happen earlier this year. Wrist surgery put Koepka on the shelf for four months. Missing the Masters in April made him realize how much he missed playing.
“Those are the only guys that texted me,” he said. “You make a lot of friends out here, and you feel like a lot of them, you just get forgotten.”
He was gone, forgotten – but hardly done. Remarkably, his swing was in tune from the first moment he was cleared to hit balls. There was scant rust to scrape off. Koepka missed the cut in his first tournament back, made the weekend in his second, then finished tied for 11th at The Players Championship in mid-May.
At that point, he figured he was ready to win again. But in the early stages of the second round here, Koepka looked like one of the least likely candidates to win.
He opened with a 75, putting him six shots behind the leaders heading into Friday. Then Koepka bogeyed two of his first four holes, floated to seven-over par, and was flirting with missing the cut.
Then it turned. Koepka played the rest of that round in six-under par, soaring up the leaderboard and into contention. Still, he was five shots behind 2016 Open champion, world No. 1 golfer and close friend Johnson.
In the Shinnecock media tent, the coronation of Johnson was underway Friday. He led by four shots and made it look easy while everyone else was flailing. The only problem is that Johnson’s game skipped the weekend — he shot 77 Saturday to come back to the field, and 70 Sunday.
Koepka and Johnson played together Sunday — two strong, silent types who might be the most physically impressive players on the Tour. They hit the gym together Sunday morning for a workout — then barely spoke during their round together.
“We’re both competitive,” Koepka said.
While Johnson started with four straight pars, running in place, Koepka birdied three of the first five holes to take a lead he would never relinquish. He had his game face on.
“My wife always says, ‘He’s got that Koepka look,’ ” Bob Koepka said. “He carries himself with a ton of confidence.”
Through 10 holes Sunday, Koepka had the look of a winner. Then things got rocky, and he had to save himself. A bad tee shot on the par-3 11th hole wound up over the green, down the hill and in gnarly rough.
“I would have taken double from there,” he said. “That was jail.”
He got out with a light sentence. Koepka purposefully hit the comebacker hard to make sure the ball didn’t roll back down the hill, and it wound up in a bunker on the other side of the green. He blasted to 12½ feet, then rolled in the first of a succession of clutch putts.
A six-footer for par salvaged the 12th hole, and then he drained an eight-footer for another par on 14. By this time, Tommy Fleetwood had been in the clubhouse with a 63 and was lurking just a shot behind — but Koepka never let him get a tie for the lead.
After a birdie on 16, Koepka had the cushion he needed. All that remained was to navigate the last two holes, then walk off into the embrace of his dad.
It had been some week for Bob and Sherry Koepka, who arrived in New York on June 9 and went to Belmont Park to see Justify win the Triple Crown. Then they hunkered down on Long Island to see their son make some sporting history of his own.
After Bob held court with a few reporters near the Shinnecock clubhouse, he thanked them for their time. Before heading to the trophy presentation, he offered one last thought.
“I hope you guys have a happy Father’s Day,” Bob Koepka said. “I think I’m one-up on you.”
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