Erin, Wis. – While Patrick Reed was screaming and wagging his finger at Rory McIlroy last fall at Hazeltine National, one of his teammates was proving even more dominant as the United States won the Ryder Cup.
Reed earned 3½ points in five matches, and his histrionics earned him the nickname "Captain America." Brooks Koepka — Colonel America? — used his power to earn three points in four matches as a Ryder Cup rookie.
This weekend at the U.S. Open, Reed wore his Ryder Cup slacks, but it was Koepka who celebrated another quintessential American victory, tying a tournament record with a winning score of 16 under par to earn his first major.
Koepka's father wasn't at Erin Hills, so he had to watch his son like the rest of the golf world, as Brooks turned a tight leaderboard into a Father's Day laugher. "I didn't get him a card," Koepka said. "So I hope this works."
Koepka shot a final-round 67 as the Erin Open became the seventh consecutive major to produce a first-time major winner. The 67 was the lowest final round by the winner of the Open since Tiger Woods shot the same score in 2000 at Pebble Beach.
Ten of the past 13 U.S. Opens have been won by first-time major winners — the past two by quiet, powerful athletes who work out together and triumphed by overpowering landlocked courses.
Dustin Johnson won at Oakmont last June. He and Koepka, two of the strongest men on tour, work out together regularly. "Dustin actually called me last night, and told me the same thing, just stay patient, keep doing what you're doing, you're going to win the thing," Koepka said. "Just don't get ahead of yourself."
With wind finally making Erin Hills a challenge on Sunday, Koepka missed only one green in the final round. He hit a 3-wood 379 yards off the 18th tee. He dominated the longest course in U.S. Open history, completing his career climb by winning by four strokes over Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman.
Koepka has won on the international Challenge Tour, European Tour, PGA Tour and now has won as many majors as regular PGA Tour events. Not bad for a guy who once ate horse meat in Kazakhstan and once called his manager to try to beg out of a tournament he was winning overseas.
"I just wanted to be home, even though I think I had the lead at that point and was about to win the third one," Koepka said.
Now Koepka travels only when he chooses. His four-shot victory was the largest in the past nine majors, landing him a $2.1 million payday.
"He's a great player," Justin Thomas said. "And he has no fear."
Koepka admitted he felt more ambitious than nervous Sunday. "I just felt like I should be winning more," he said. "I've been trying to win so badly. I felt like I've underachieved. And the more patient that I can become, the more times I'll put myself in that situation."
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said this week that he was standing on the practice range with his wife, noting that most golfers used to look like him, short and slender. Then he pointed at players like Johnson and Koepka and said, "These guys look like Greek gods."
Koepka could have played baseball, although he said he wasn't able to hit for power. He has second-guessed his decision to play golf instead. "I think I'll be all right with golf," he said Sunday night.
Predicting future greatness based on one major championship has proved unwise. On Sunday nights, it's difficult to tell the difference between budding legends and historical footnotes, but Koepka has proven himself on two of the most pressurized stages in golf.
Koepka won big at Hazeltine, withstanding the intense pressure of playing for teammates and country, and he won going away at Erin Hills.
The Midwest has been good to Koepka, who no longer needs to eat horse meat in Kazakhstan to make a living in golf.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org