By Michael Bennett

Even in golf, it sometimes takes a long time to achieve an overnight success!

Brooks Koepka, a 27-year-old from West Palm Beach, sank a 2-foot par putt to secure his first career major championship yesterday to win the U. S. Open with a score of 16 under par.

That tied the lowest score under par in U.S. Open history, matching Rory McIlroy’s finish at Congressional in 2011.

Koepka shot a 5-under-par 67 yesterday to beat runners-up Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama by four strokes and provide more proof of the depth of golf’s talent pool in the post-Tiger Woods era.

Consecutive birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes turned the closing stretch into a victory march, though Koepka remained characteristically subdued throughout.

“That’s probably the most emotion I’ve ever showed,” Koepka said unsarcastically. When asked what he was referring to, he cited a lone fist pump on the 18th green.

After playing college golf at Florida State, Koepka chose a different path than most young players to try to earn status on the PGA Tour. He joined a lower-tier overseas circuit called the Challenge Tour in 2012, played his way onto the European Tour in 2013 and joined the PGA Tour in 2014.

But Koepka was hardly a no-name in golf circles. He was ranked 22nd in the world. He played on the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team last fall. He had finished in top 25 in his past seven major championship appearances. But he had won only once before on the PGA Tour—and that was more than two years ago.

“It’s crazy to think this was only his second win,” said Justin Thomas, who shot a 75 to finish at 8 under. “He had been knocking on the door for a while.”

On a long list of young stars headlined by Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Koepka was merely notable at best. But most of the top-ranked players in the world bowed out early this week. And Erin Hills, which on Thursday became the longest major championship course on record, played into Koepka’s greatest strength: pure power off the tee. He ranks fifth on Tour in driving distance, averaging 308 yards.

With low winds for most of the tournament, the course’s wide fairways also helped mitigate a glaring weakness: accuracy. Only 55% of his tee shots this season have landed in the fairway, which ranks just 173rd on Tour. Over four rounds at Erin Hills, Koepka hit 88% of fairways.

“Some of the misses that would usually be in a bunker or in deep rough in a U.S. Open, they were able to hang on,” he said.

After days of light winds and soft greens that helped players set various U.S. Open scoring records, the wind finally came to the defense of Erin Hills.

With no past major champion in the top 15 to start the day, it was clear from the outset that the final round would represent a breakthrough moment for someone. Thomas, who on Saturday became the first player to shoot 9 under par in a U.S. Open round, was among the most promising candidates. But Thomas hit his opening drive into a hazard and bogeyed three of his first five holes to fall out of contention early. “I just didn’t have it today,” he said.

That left Rickie Fowler as the most prominent player with a legitimate chance to win. But after coming within a stroke of the lead early in his round, Fowler fizzled. He shot a ho-hum 72, with three bogeys and three birdies, to finish at 10 under. At age 28, he remains perhaps golf’s best player—and certainly its most heavily marketed player—without a major championship.

“I feel like golf-wise I’m playing at the highest level,” Fowler said. “You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning.”

But Koepka said he couldn’t stand the fact that he had won only once on the PGA Tour. “I’ve been trying to win so badly,” he said. “I felt I’ve underachieved.”

He got a phone call Saturday night from world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Koepka’s workout pal and fellow South Florida resident, telling him to stay patient and that he would prevail in the end.

One night later, Koepka held the trophy, a moment worth the wait.

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