ERIN, Wis. – Brooks Koepka was crowned the 2017 U.S. Open champion Sunday at Erin Hills, a first-time course on the Open rota.
The winning score? That would be 16 under. Here are 10 things we learned from an Open at a new venue with score unusual for the year’s second major:
- 1. Erin Hills did favor a bomber after all. Koepka had a revelation after the third round that he did not hit less than a 7-iron into a par 4 and his 318.1-yard driving distance average helped him overpower Erin Hills. That sells other parts of Koepka’s performance short, however. He was the first player in history to hit more than 80 percent of the fairways and 80 percent of the greens in a ballstriking dismantling for the ages. “It was kind of bomb’s away,” Koepka said. “The fairways were generous enough you could miss it and still get away with it.”
- 2. The USGA listens. When Dustin Johnson’s ball moved last year at Oakmont, there was a sense that Stimpmeter speeds in the 14 range played a major role and also bogged down play. Fast forward a year and the pure Erin Hills A4 bents prepared by Zach Reineking’s hard-working crew were the smoothest most U.S. Open veterans could remember. But they were kept at a very manageable pace. The greens maintained just enough speed to be interesting after rains, but never became a story. Furthermore, predicted pace of play issues never materialized.
- 3. Erin Hills could have been played from the tips. Turns out the maximum 8,348 yardage wouldn’t have been too silly. The field averaged 302.2 yards off the tee and Cameron Champ led the field with a whopping 334.4 average. Through the first two rounds, 116 players in the field averaged more than 300 yards off the tee. Fourteen players averaged more than 315 yards for the week, proving that when given the opportunity to hit a lot of drivers for most of the round, today’s players can hit the ball unfathomable distances.
- 4. The USGA still treats pros in peculiar ways. While the temporary locker room erected for the week complemented Erin Hill’s amazing practice area, there was the oddity of players arriving via a long and narrow gravel entrance road. Barely wide enough for two cars and featuring orange cones down the center, first-time U.S. Open contestants must have been scratching their heads thinking they’d taken a wrong turn to the Backwoods Classic. The only goosebumps were induced by near-head-on collisions. Magnolia Lane, this was not.
- 5. The Harmons are really, really good instructors. That was Claude Harmon III, the lower-profile son of instructor Butch, getting a bear hug from pupil Koepka just off the 18th green. What a special Father’s Day for dad to have student Rickie Fowler in contention while his son worked in the next range stall over with the eventual winner and both supervised their players’ Sunday warm up.
— Claude Harmon III (@CH3golf) June 18, 2017
- 6. The USGA still doesn’t do good trophy ceremony. After last year’s struggles, a new strategy was employed at Erin Hills to hand the trophy to the champion. USGA president Diana Murphy nailed all of her lines but Curtis Strange kept checking his notes in an awkward interview with Koepka. It was all set to a smattering of bored spectators in the background lining the practice putting green. No low amateur. No volunteers getting some TV time in the background. No good.
- 7. Erin Hills works better than Whistling Straits as a major venue. The Hurdzan-Fry-Whitten design features more standout holes. The players barely complained about anything and the property is closer to Milwaukee and Chicago. The Wisconsin fans were troopers, too. They embraced the massively-scaled property even if it took a while to get here and it was tough to walk. Too bad the 2020 Ryder Cup will be played an hour and 20 minutes north.
- 8. The Amateur game had a nice showing. Fourteen amateurs qualified for Erin Hills and two made the cut. Low amateur Scottie Scheffler (69-74-71-73-287, T-27) and Cameron Champ (70-69-73-76-288, T-31) have undoubtedly vaulted onto the top-secret Walker Cup watch list. Champ’s 334.4 driving average and powerful swing was a whopping 32 yards above the field average.
- 9. We got to know Tommy Fleetwood just at the right time. After plummeting to 188th in the world last year, the 26-year-old Englishman won the Abu Dhabi HSBC in January and is now on everyone’s radar heading into the Open Championship. Royal Birkdale is just up the street from his childhood home, so he takes a fourth-place finish in the U.S. Open back to the European Tour and the run-up to The Open Championship. Luke Kerr-Dineen with more at For The Win.
- 10. The USGA needs to have more significant events before awarding tournaments to modern venues. It will be at least a decade before they visit an untested and newish design, so this point may be moot. Even though Chambers Bay and Erin Hills each hosted U.S. Amateurs, match play golf just isn’t enough to survey a course. The Erin Hills setup erred on the conservative side out of concern for wind and firm conditions accentuating its many big design features. While the sadists didn’t get their annual fill of wrecks, the USGA needed a week where it was about the players, even if it meant producing a record-tying winning score and the lowest-ever round in relation to par. The setup was not perfect, but hindsight suggests Mike Davis and Jeff Hall would have done a few things differently with another tournament here under their belts. Now they have one and expect a return here some day.