U.S. Open 2017: Hideki Matsuyama rocked and 18 final thoughts from Erin Hills
ERIN, Wis. — I love every major championship week. The Masters, The Open, The U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, it doesn’t much matter to me. Every major is different, and at least for the last seven, we’ve gotten a variety of winners. It’s a thrill to be at and cover these events, and that was true once again this week for the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
, but a lot went on beyond that 16-under bloodletting from one of the most ruthless talents on the PGA Tour. Here are 18 final thoughts on the 2017 U.S. Open.
1. The course was fine: There was a lot of angst about this not being a proper U.S. Open, which is understandable considering the winning score of 272 was the third-lowest in the modern era. The problem for the USGA was two-fold. First, it rained a lot. Justin Thomas noted that on a normal course that received this much rain, 20 under would probably be leading after the third round. The second, and more important, point is that the wind didn’t blow. We came into this week knowing that one of the biggest defenders of this Scottish-American hybrid course would be the wind. It stood dormant for the first three days and gave a half-hearted effort on Sunday. If it howls at all for, say, two days, this is a completely different board.
“I think anytime you’ve seen the golf courses, U.S. Open golf venues work back towards even par, there are complaints,” said Jordan Spieth, who finished T35 at 1 over. “Now all of a sudden they make it tough and fair, and people are 12-under, and people are complaining they’re 12-under, so like let’s pick one side or the other here.”
Also, people need to stop worrying about score to par. Everybody was freaking out about Koepka getting to 16 under when the reality is that he was just four strokes better than Dustin Johnson’s 276 at Oakmont last year. For the 100th (and hopefully last!) time, the par of a course is arbitrary. All that matters is how many overall strokes you take. Finally, apropos of nothing, I thought this was a great tweet.
2. Rickie Fowler’s finish: I thought Fowler would shoot 72 on Sunday for the win. I correctly predicted one of these things. Fowler has now tied Lee Westwood for the most top-five finishes at a major championship since 2010 without a win. They both have six, per Golf Channel. Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods have five.
Fowler’s ball-striking let him down on the weekend, just like it did at the Masters. He only hit 22-of-36 greens in regulation and had negative strokes gained off the tee and on his approach shots in both Round 3 and Round 4. I thought he left a little to be desired overall on Sunday. He just didn’t have the fire you usually see from him down the stretch. Maybe he knew he didn’t have the goods to get home.
“I feel like, golf-wise, I’m playing at the highest level,” said Fowler. “If you look at the negatives too much, I mean, you’re going to be stuck doing that the whole time. You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, just because that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I think Tiger had the best winning percentage of all time at 30 percent, and you’re lucky to even sniff close to 10.
“You kind of have to say, ‘Hey, it’s a major.’ We played well this week. I felt like I did a lot of good things, especially in the first round, executing my game plan. Even though the scores were somewhat lower than a normal U.S. Open, but to finish in double digits, under par at a major championship, especially the [U.S.] Open, it was a good week. I think I might have gotten another top 5 snuck in there, maybe.”
3. Steve Stricker’s story: How about Strick qualifying for his home-state Open and finishing T16? Other than Fowler and a handful of other top players, nobody got more love from the Cheeseheads than Stricker. The Jordy Nelson of golf up here, he’s royalty.
“It was really cool,” said Stricker of getting a standing ovation on No. 18 as he finished up. “Yeah, I don’t get those very often. So it was pretty cool to get that, and to play well today on top of it was extra special. And I’m glad I made it here. I’m glad a qualified and was able to play. It was a pretty special week all around. We had a great time. My wife was on the bag. My kids were here. And it was a very special week to be here.”
4. Tommy Fleetwood is a dude: I’m president of the Tommy Fleetwood Fan Club and not just because he came on my podcast. He plays golf with the disposition of somebody who doesn’t have anything else in the world he would rather be doing.
There was a great moment after his closing 72 when he was doing an interview with Rich Beem of Sky Sports. Beem asked when we would see him again, and Fleetwood said something along the lines of I’m playing Germany on the European Tour next week. I’m about to leave, actually.
The way he beamed when he said it after 72 holes of U.S. Open golf was just rife with joy. Great dude, great swing, great lettuce and hopefully great future.
5. That Justin Thomas 3-wood:. But that 3-wood will stick with me forever. What a day. What a moment. Thomas couldn’t back it up on Sunday, but he said he was glad Koepka lapped the field because it made his poor showing on Sunday of 75 easier to swallow.
6. Xander Schauffele’s near miss: The first-time major participant missed out on a bid to the 2018 Masters by one stroke. The top four and ties get in, and he finished T5 even with a birdie at the last. Still, quite a week for him.
7. The Tiger callback: This stat below seems pretty good. Koepka also tied the lowest U.S. Open score to par at 16 under (Rory McIlroy in 2011 at Congressional) and tied for the third lowest overall score in the modern era of the U.S. Open (272). Only McIlroy (268) and Martin Kaymer (271) were lower.
8. Speaking of records: The record for most rounds under par in a single U.S. Open was shattered this week. The old record was 124 (1990 at Medinah). This week we got 140. That’s pretty wild.
9. Patrick Reed: The USA pants were sweet, but he still doesn’t have a top 10 at a major. That’s still one of the more mind-blowing stats going right now.
10. Golfers wouldn’t mind going back: Or at least Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth wouldn’t.
“It would be a lot of fun to see this place firm and fast,” said Fowler, who finished T5. “It’s a lot of fun to play, but I think you see a little bit more of its characteristics when you can play the ball a little bit on the ground if you have to, and get kind of the roll and everything of the natural terrain. So it was fun to play with some soft conditions, and at least be able to score, because typically at a U.S. Open you get your head beat in … It would be fun to see it on the other side. It might just be a little bit more of a mental headache if we do get to see that.”
“I think it’s an awesome golf course,” said Spieth, who finished T35. “I think that’s been the consensus from everybody. There are so many great ones to choose from. I’m sure at some point it will come back here. I don’t know. That’s hard for me to say, deserving or not, because I have nothing to do with it. But in my opinion, I would like to see another one here down the road, sure.”
“I like it. I liked it before I came here,” said Thomas, who finished T9. “I think the rap it was getting for the low scores and everything, I mean it is what it is. We had one day like this, and the scores were more like an Open. They were obviously a little bit lower, but it does not matter what golf course you put us on. If there’s no wind and soft greens, we’re going to play well. That’s just how it is. Especially fairways this big.
“So, I think I didn’t really understand the beef that it was getting for the low scores. I mean, it was still, I mean, 12-under, 11-under was still leading the tournament at one back. That’s not that low for the best players in the world in a major championship. I think there’s no reason why it couldn’t host another one. I’m sure Erin Hills and the USGA would like it to play firmer and faster to see what it would be like.”
11. Brian Harman hung around: I was impressed with Harman’s 72 on Sunday. I know that sounds a little disingenuous considering the fact that he got boat raced by Koepka, but think about how bad it could have been based on how he started. His first couple of shots were so loose, I wasn’t sure he’d make it to the turn! But he pulled it together and somehow didn’t make a bogey until the 12th hole. His first top 20 at a major ended up being a T2. He also made a little history by getting to 13 under.
12. Scottie Scheffler wins low am: It was a battle between him and Cameron Champ, but Scheffler closed with a birdie while Champ closed with a 76. Two studs, though. Champ is going to be a handful in the SEC over the next few years. “He’s basically at the point where he’s like the U.S. military,” swing coach Sean Foley told Golfweek. “He’s just weaponized.”
13. Wide fairways rock: I know I mentioned this earlier, but Andy Johnson of the Fried Egg laid out why wide fairways are awesome, and I agree. It allowed so many different types of players atop the leaderboard which made for an intriguing weekend. If the wind had blown, scores would have been down a little bit, and nobody would have complained. Wide fairways were not the issue, and they actually contributed some great nuance to the week. Wide fairways make for exciting weekends at majors (this is why we love the Masters). There are other (better) ways to protect par.
14. Brendan Steele’s festival: How about this stat: Steele made more birdies or eagles (22) than anyone who has ever played a United States Open. If not for those 15 bogeys or worse, he would have been right in it!
15. Does Koepka have staying power? Yes, I believe he does. In a big golf group text we have going on, the question tonight was raised about which player between Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy has the most majors in the next five years (20 majors). Nobody had Koepka last. That might be recency bias, but I think this week proved how high he’s capable of flying. At least when he cares.
“There’s something about majors where I just focus in a lot more,” said Koepka. “Obviously, I need to do that more often. But it’s got my full attention. Every shot, every putt, even if it’s 12 inches, a foot, foot and a half, I’m still reading it, still doing everything, and it’s got my attention.”
16. Hideki Matsuyama moves to No. 2: Matsuyama went 65-71-66 after a below-average start to finish T2, which is good enough to move him to No. 2 in the world on Monday. I never actually felt like he was going to win this week (or at any U.S. Open for that matter), but he now has three consecutive top 11s and four top 11s in his last six at major championships. His 66 on Sunday was the low round of the day. Here are all the low rounds by day.
- Thursday: 65 (Rickie Fowler)
- Friday: 65 (Chez Reavie, Hideki Matsuyama)
- Saturday: 63 (Justin Thomas)
- Sunday: 66 (Hideki Matsuyama)
Also, scoring average by day.
- Thursday: 73.4
- Friday: 73.2
- Saturday: 72.0
- Sunday: 73.9
17. Aggregate leaders: After two majors, only 28 golfers have made the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Of those 28, Koepka leads the overall race at 17-under 559 followed by Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama (13 under), Rickie Fowler (11 under) and Matt Kuchar (10 under).
18. On to the next one: After a record seven-consecutive first-time major winners, The Open goes back to Royal Birkdale where Sergio Garcia will win his second major of 2017 and end the streak. Those seven in a row are pretty incredible, too. Starting with Jason Day at the 2015 PGA Championship, we’ve gotten Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Garcia and Koepka. Quite a list.