Forget Tiger and Phil. With his second U.S. Open title in a row on Sunday, Brooks Koepka lays claim to top golfer in the world.
Since it is known as the national championship of golf, one should have naturally expected Shinnecock Hills Golf Club to present myriad challenges to the best players in the world.
Fast greens, narrow driving lanes, impossible pin placements exacerbated by treacherous traps, rough deep enough to bury your ankles, let alone the dimpled sphere that just inexplicably sailed far away from the margins of safety.
But what the golfers experienced last week was actually surreal, beginning with a blustery first round that immediately knocked scores off-kilter, especially when combined with a Draconian architectural design that seemed to transform the field into a bunch of weekend hackers.
No, this course wasn’t just difficult, it was so grim that tournament poohbahs actually felt compelled to apologize when the damage done had become apparent.
And when it was over Sunday, there was Brooks Koepka, so limited this season by a wrist injury that he missed The Masters, sitting alone at a humble 1-over 281 after a 2-under 68 in the final round.
Not great, but darn good enough to defend the championship he won last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, by shooting 16-under, tying the tournament record set in 2011 by Rory McElroy.
Koepka, 28, the grandson of former shortstop Dick Groat, the National League’s MVP in 1960, is just the third to win consecutive men’s national championships since 1949, joining Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89).
Koepka finished a stroke ahead of Tommy Fleetwood, who finally broke through the course’s matrix on Sunday by closing with a 63, tying the lowest round ever recorded at the U.S. Open, previously set by Justin Thomas, Vijay Singh, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus.
But the event may eventually remembered more for two other things.
Phil Mickelson, obviously flummoxed by his performance — he’d already finished second six times without ever winning The Open — actually chased down an errant putt on the 13th on Saturday and re-struck it back at the pin before it had stopped rolling, just like a 10-year-old might on the 18th with the clown’s nose at some miniature golf course in Myrtle Beach.
This silliness, which could have resulted in his disqualification, occasioned only a two-stroke penalty that still had incredulous heads shaking when he finally strode off the course Sunday at 16-over, good for a share of 48th place. Mickelson actually shot a 1-under 69 in two his four rounds, and still managed to finish 16-over.
Then there was the abysmal performances of some of the game’s neon names who failed to even make the cut. Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Mcllroy, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods were all tapped out after Friday.
And frankly folks, at this point, what is there charitably left to say about the game of Woods, who has won 79 events and nearly $112 million in his Hall of Fame career but nothing since 2013?
It is clear by now that age, injuries and personal indiscretions (the deity does not give you everything, my friends) have eroded his game, perhaps to the point of no return or at least no better than to revel in a second-place finish at Valspar this season.
But still the cameras shadow him, stopping to glare at every backswing, even though 52 other guys have made more money on the tour this season than he.
Woods is more Eldrick than a Tiger now, his career a museum piece, his hairline receding at the pace of his short game. After Sunday, maybe it’s time to give more love the guys who deserve it, like the two-time defending national champion.