The United States Golf Association decided to take it’s national open to the state of Wisconsin for the first time this year, and a PGA Championship broke out.
Take nothing away from Brooks Koepka, the 117th U.S. Open champion, whose 16-under par total tied the lowest recorded score at the second major of the year (Rory McIlroy, 2011).
But the U.S. Open is meant to punish the world’s best, where bogeys are good and pars are better – and you don’t see the winner make three-straight birdies late Sunday to peel away from the field.
"It was kind of bombs away. You could hit it far and the fairways were generous enough you could still miss it and hit the fairway, and that was a big plus for me," said Koepka in his winner’s interview.
That doesn’t sound like the U.S. Open.
In the history of the championship, from 1895 to 2016, six players total reached double-digits under par in the championship.
That number was beat this week.
Poor Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, and Bill Haas.
Their scores – 13-under, 12-under, 11-under, and a trio of 10-under’s – would have won every U.S. Open contested, save three.
Koepka dusted them.
Kudos to the USGA for trying something different, taking their storied championship to a fairly untested golf course – yes, Erin Hills hosted two amateur events since its opening – but without mother nature exuding her usual wrath (until Sunday morning, before the leaders even teed off, and it calmed down slightly as the afternoon wore on) and with the 50-plus yard landing areas for the best golfers in the world, they ate it up.
Those who played poorly, like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – pre-tournament favourites, all – missed the cut. Jordan Spieth was never a factor, but admitted in a post-round interview the "general consensus" was that the players "really liked" the golf course.
Of course they did. The cut (1-over) was the same as last week’s PGA Tour event, the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Rickie Fowler said it was "fun" to play Erin Hills, which is an unusual descriptor for the U.S. Open.
"You’re at least able to score, because typically at a U.S. Open you get your head beat in," said Fowler, who finished tied for fifth.
Brendan Steele, a PGA Tour winner but not much of a household name, became the first played in U.S. Open history to card 22 birdies in the week.
Four guys shot 65 (7-under par). Justin Thomas shot a 9-under-par 63 to move into contention Saturday, a U.S. Open record.
This was, for all intents and purposes, the easiest U.S. Open of all time.
Brooks Koepka didn’t care.
He still had to go lower than anyone to win, and he was stout on Sunday – making six birdies, hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation, and 12 of 16 fairways (including roasting a 3-wood 379 yards on the 72nd hole).
Koepka channeled some of his Ryder Cup moxie (where he went 3-1 as a rookie) to leapfrog all challengers to hoist the trophy, and he did everything he needed to on the Sunday of the U.S. Open.
Except it was a different kind of Sunday.
"He went around like he was playing a casual 18," said Golf Channel announcer Rich Lerner of Koepka.
So bring on Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, and Torrey Pines – traditional layouts with traditional challenges – for the next four U.S. Opens, and let the carnage unfold once again.
It’s OK for the USGA to let the best players in the world struggle, and know that even-par late Sunday will be a score contending for the trophy, not a tie for 32nd.
That’s what we’ve come to expect of the U.S. Open.