Leading off and following on from last week, we must first congratulate Irelands very own femme fatale of the fairways. Leona Maguire this weekend went and won the Ladies British Amateur Open Championship, beating Ainhoa Olarra 3 and 2 in the big final. The event took place at Pyle & Kenfig golf course in South Wales, and follows on from Stephanie Meadows success in 2012 at Carnoustie. She is set to turn pro post graduation, and will compete in the British Open and the Ladies US Open in the next few months. It seems you get great pop off being featured by me, eh? Now to business. I made you some cash and/or covered what you lost at the Masters, though had Pretty Rickie come in, I would have made a lot more. Contrary to a multitude of people, I enjoyed the US Open for what it was, that players were rewarded for skill and punished for bad mistakes. The greens being soft will play into detractor’s hands, and not even the wind could really protect the course. Sadly it was not a good week of action for the Irish.
The vaunted return of Rory ended really before it started. He did proclaim about the venue "We have 60 yards from left line to right line. You've got 156 of the best players in the world here, if we can't hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home." Boy did those words come back to haunt him in style. After opening with eagle within two holes, for him the event unfolded by hitting 57% of the sixty-yard fairways. Ouch. He did own it in Sky’s surrounds, claiming a lack of reps was what undone him, but a guy of his ability should be able to craft his way to top tens. As it is thre years since his last major, it is also cause for concern. People seem to have given him this years USPGA as it is in Quail Hollow, but I don’t think there is any guarantees there either, especially as he beds in the new equipment. It feels like 2017 is another write off of a year of his prime. Former champ Graeme McDowell sadly missed the cut, leaving our only representatives at the weekend Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne. Lowry posed a considerable threat on day one, putting forward a one under to be close to the leaders, but slipped on Friday, carding over par on a day where the movers and shakers made significant inroads on the scores, so one of my predictions bit the dust on me.
Paul Dunne So, as for the protagonists of this piece. The venue was set up to be a bombers delight, all ready for the top names like Rory, Day, Johnson, and even Bubba. The longest track in US Open history was set to favour those that go deep. It did, essentially, but not for the household names of the game. Jason Day struggled to break eighty for his two days, and Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm and Rory missed out on weekend action. What remained was a conglomerate of Koepka, Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and perennial fan favourite Rickie Fowler, now arguably the best player without a Major to his name. Oh, not forgetting Justin Thomas, shooting a US Open record score, but we’ll get to him later. Rickie raced out to a phenomenal seven under on Day One, taking the lead from the pack by one. He was brought back to the pack, as expected, on Day Two, where the likes of Matsuyama, Harman and Koepka reigned him in. As was the case for much of his weekend, Fowler put on a display of grinding, eeking out par saving putts to remain in contention. In a Major scenario, these take their toll mentally and physically, and this is what we saw on his back nine on Sunday. Saturday, as far as moving days go, was up there for the annals of time to testify. Much to the chagrin of crusty old booth veterans. Just Thomas put in one of those displays where pretty much everything seemed to go right for him. Having a putt where he faced perpendicularly to the hole go in showed that it was going to be his day. Taking on the drivable fifteenth with his three wood, he hit the most sumptuous high cutter onto the back of the green, where it found its way closer to the hole.
Though he missed the eight foot eagle putt, he would rebound, and in some fashion. The Par Five finale played 605 on the ground. For Thomas, it meant Three off the tee, and having three hundred yards and some change left, he proceded to hit one of the US Opens all time shots. It carried all the way to the green, leaving a relatively short eagle putt. Thomas composed himself to sink the eagle putt, and break the infamous Johnny Millers US Open scoring record. Cue disgust and hot takes…. So I do have an affinity for grumpy pundits, with axes to grind. I enjoy Johnny’s takes. They are seen as mind blowing in the US, but here we are so used to it, with writers like Kimmage and Donegan. His latest take is exceptional. "Taking nothing away from nine-under par -- nine under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure," Miller said. "But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up." So, as it was an “easier” course than Oakmont (which is fair-as last year proved) and it wasn’t performed on the final day, so it didn’t win Thomas the title, much like the Warriors record last season. It’s no good either, as it was a Par 72, so Just had TOO MANY Par Fives to attack. "A 63 for a par 72 is a heck of a score," Miller added," even if it was the Milwaukee Open." It’s not even fair on old Johnny Boy Here’s a hot take on that. Whilst he can claim a compelling case on the round and its context, let’s put his into similar scrutiny. After the third day of the 1973 US Open, Miller was nowhere to be seen atop the leaderboard. He was six shots behind Palmer, Heard, Boros and Schlee. So unlike Justin, he never once led the tournament until the end. Though the demands for the US Open mean that you’re never really out of contention, even at six behind, would it have been a differing tale had he the overnight lead. At six back, you’re more inclined to throw caution to the wind, and try things you wouldn’t normally.
You don’t have the extra pressure of maintaining a lead, which can be extremely debilitating, especially for someone who hadn’t won a Major at that point. I’m not saying that round was a fluke, but if you’re going to give it, you have to take the flak in return. I still love you though Johnny! On to Sunday. For Justin, the tone was set on the first tee, where he overturned his drive left into fescue hazard, and did well to advance. He hit the turn losing three shots, while those ahead of him on the course, like Harman and Koepka, made ground. His playing partner, Tommy Fleetwood, the one time leader, struggled too. He seemed serene until the eighteenth on the Third Round, where a brain fart on the approach progressed into him ultimately doing well to scramble for bogey off the back of the green. On the early holes of Sunday, he struggle to get any momentum, and he too hit the turn over par. My choice of choices was Rickie, and though he didn’t set off like a train, he did gain ground on the leaders over the arly holes, Until some slightly wayward irons lead to him grind out long par putt after long par putt. This took its toll on the score card and it was only a matter of time before he had to force the issue, and fell some strokes back. Though Matsuyama posted a brilliant 66 to gain the clubhouse lead, it would be a battle between the bulging biceps of Koepka and the plotting and plodding of Brian Harman, who ironically downed Fowler in his last collegiate outing for Oklahoma. Koepka displayed great nerves and ball striking to navigate his way. Harman tried to mount a realistic challenge but it felt over about half way down the back nine, where the lead extended from one, to two, to three, to four.
Koepka’s three birdies in a row sealed it for him and meant that we would not have to return on Monday for the ninth consecutive year. It has received a lukewarm reaction, with many saying that the USGA gave in to the demands of the players and gave it the feel of a generic PGA Tour event. Others lauded the course, saying how fun it was to see a low scoring US Open. Fun? At a US Open? You must be mad? It should be four days of hardship, and next year it should be a return to form at Shinnecock, where the USGA know how to cook up more suffering for the players. Either way, Koepka is a deserving champion, and who knows what his ceiling is. You imagine that his game won’t be suited to narrow and daunting, so this could be his fifteen minutes. Time will tell, but I hope not as he seems a genuine talent.
Plying his trade on the European Tour is impressive, as it shows he can operate outside of his comfort zone. That’s it for this years US Open. The next series of events will see the Irish Open come to Portstwart, displaying the wares of the North and the skills of the best, and then my favourite of the Majors-The Open, from Birkdale, where Laurence Donegan assures us that only truly worthy champions are crowned. Stay tuned too, as there will be a special competition for all of these. The Caddy Guy must now go and collect his winnings, and piece back together his game… I could be a while….