The 18: Notes from the U.S. Open

The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two. 

The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.

1. Coming into the week, there was no doubt that Brooks Koepka should have been on your radar as a potential champion at Erin Hills. With how long the course was, he should have been a perfect fit to play well, but it didn’t really play out in that exact fashion. Erin Hills didn’t play as long as everyone thought coming into the week, but with the wide fairways, it certainly allowed the longer hitters like Koepka to hit driver without a ton of fear. What was actually impressive was the way that Koepka took advantage of those tee shots with superb iron play.

Also impressive was that the result was still in doubt on the back nine, with Brian Harman right there and Hideki Matsuyama making a late charge, but Koepka just kept his foot on the gas and he blew the entire field away. The putter, always a forgotten part of his game because of how damn far he hits the ball, took over down the stretch and allowed him to pull away from the pack. As was mentioned on the Fried Egg podcast, it was eerily reminiscent of the way Jason Day won his PGA Championship and approximately 2139 events in a row in 2015: by bombing the ball down the middle of the fairway, hitting a decent iron and just rolling putts right into the centre of the hole. It was almost robotic, and Koepka definitely gave off the vibe like he wasn’t going to miss when it mattered the most. It was a lot of fun to watch a guy who is that far in the zone, and it just goes to show that Koepka exists in that realm with guys like Rory and DJ who seem to have another gear.

Going forward, I’m not entirely sure what this means for Koepka and what the roadmap looks like for the next few years. For so long, it was easy to look at a player with Koepka’s abilities and project, say fifteen wins on the PGA Tour with two or three of them being major championships, but now, the talent is so deep that I’m not sure that Koepka will ever win another major. If I had to bet on it right now, I’d say that he would, but if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest and it wouldn’t be a knock on him either. The goalposts have shifted now on what our definition of a quality career is because of how good everyone at the top of the game is, and a guy finishing with seven or eight wins, with one or two majors is a much bigger deal than it was 20-30 years ago. Koepka’s win was the seventh straight first time major winner, and there’s more coming.

The particulars:

  • Earns $2,160,000 and 600 FedEx Cup points for the win.
  • Jumps from 22nd to 10th in the OWGR, and from 19th to 5th in the FedEx Cup.
  • Now exempt for the U.S. Open for the next ten years.

2. I know that he rubs some people the wrong way with his pace of play and over the top #TourSauce display, but when he’s striking it like he did last week, there are very few players in the game who are more exciting to watch than Hideki Matsuyama. He jumped up to second behind DJ in the OWGR with his runner-up finish, and when his putter is even passable, there might not be a better player in the game. It’s only a matter of time before he wins one of these.

3. They didn’t end up winning the tournament, but I was super impressed with the way that Brian Harman and Tommy Fleetwood ended up sticking around the entire week. I think they would both tell you that they didn’t play as well as they would have wanted on Sunday, but there’s no shame in firing an even par round of 72 on the final day of a major, particularly when you’re right in the middle of the pressure cooker at the top of the leaderboard.

I’ve been a supporter of Fleetwood for a while, and predicted that he would contend this week entirely on the basis that he is truly one of the game’s elite ball strikers. Where he struggles is around the greens and with the putter, which you definitely saw at Erin Hills, but he hits it so pure that when he’s on, all he needs to do is be solid with the short clubs and he’s going to contend in any event that he plays in. I’m fully on board with him as the next Englishman to win a major, and I’d love to see him next year in France on the European Ryder Cup team.

For Harman, I thought he would wilt, but he’s the exact opposite of Fleetwood in that it’s the putter that allows him to make money. Ultimately, ball striking is what’s going to allow you to make more money on a week to week basis, but the good putters have such an advantage on the rest of the field when they’re having an elevated ball striking week. Harman’s a great player, and after the start he had on Sunday, to keep it together and shoot 72 was impressive.

4. Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote what I think is a fair column on Rickie Fowler and how he needs to cash in on these chances at a major championship soon. KVV is correct that Fowler’s strategy on Sunday was bizarre, as he basically did the opposite of Koepka and was very conservative from the tee, which is something that we don’t see very often from him. It’s interesting with Fowler because he so very clearly has the game to win wherever he plays. He hits it far enough from the tee, strikes his irons really well and is one of the best putters on the PGA Tour on top of being a player who has a reputation for being really solid in all kinds of weather. He hasn’t had a negative value in any strokes gained statistic since 2012, and while I agree with KVV that he needs to win one of these before getting into a Sergio situation, Fowler’s probably the best example we have right now of just how tough it is to win out here, majors or otherwise.

The good thing is that he keeps putting himself in a position to do just that, and he has the right mental makeup to not get too bothered by the fact that he hasn’t sealed the deal. While KVV’s take was fair, some of the other stuff that tends to follow Fowler around really isn’t, and I’m not just talking about the thirst the brands seem to have with whoever he is dating. Ignore all of the other noise around him because he’s too good of a player to not get it done. He’s just fine.

5. Unfortunately, I was out most of Saturday with a prior commitment and I didn’t get to watch much of Justin Thomas lay waste to Erin Hills, but when you talk about those guys who have the extra gear like I did above, it’s pretty clear that Thomas is not only in that group, but that he might be at the head of the pack. This shot says it all:

The best thing that I saw written about the 63 that Thomas posted came from Kyle Robbins at SB Nation, and it’s definitely worth your time.

6. The 63 posted by Thomas ensured that we were going to get a take from Johnny Miller, and man, he didn’t disappoint.

The quote posted by Ryan Lavner in the tweet is great, but there are some other gems in there as well and I encourage you to read them all. I used to be so far out on Johnny because I hated the way he would boil things down to nerves and nerves alone, and how he basically couldn’t say anything positive about anyone, but over the years, I’ve actually warmed to him purely because of the entertainment value he provides. These quotes are exactly why you ask Johnny his opinion because even if you know how he feels, the way he articulates that thought is going to be so, so worth it.

As far as comparing Miller’s 63 at Oakmont to Thomas’ last week, he’s right in that Oakmont on a Sunday is different than Erin Hills on a Saturday, but it did feel like he could have given JT a little more credit for the score he posted while still making his overall point. From a completely anecdotal perspective, I’d say that Miller’s 63 was better, but I also have such a hard time comparing scores across eras like this, even if you use the strokes gained numbers that were floating around Twitter in the aftermath. The game is so much different than it was even fifteen years ago, much less forty, so it’s really impossible to compare the two.

7. As far as Erin Hills goes, I wrote yesterday about how much I enjoyed it, even if it was a non-traditional U.S. Open. I hope they get another shot at some point down the line.

8. Not too concerned about the way Rory played, and by extension, Spieth and DJ. As it relates to Rory, the combination of equipment changes and rust thanks to the rib injury is what I’d chalk his performance up to more than anything, even if I feel like he’s too talented to ever shoot a 78 like he did in the opening round. Don’t read too much into what you saw.

9. The real story of the week for me as it relates to Rory is him clapping back at Steve Elkington on Twitter. Elk usually puts his foot in his mouth a few times each year on Twitter, and this time, he clearly struck a nerve with someone who was more than willing to fight back.

Love the grammar shot.

I can’t possibly know what motivates any player, but to suggest that someone who has won four major championships and twenty-two worldwide tournaments at age 28 is only in it for the money after one missed cut is an asinine take. As I said above, there are perfectly logical reasons why Rory missed the cut this week, to go along with the fact that sometimes, you just don’t have it on the course that week. These things happen.

I saw some chatter online about how maybe Rory should have just let this one go, chalking it up to the fact that it’s just Elkington spouting off again. One of the things that everyone always talks about is how much they love Rory’s honesty, and that we always know what he thinks. He could have just let this go, but I love that he stood up for himself. If it was some random Twitter user who suggested it, I don’t think that Rory says anything, but because it’s someone with a platform who should know how hard this game is, it makes sense that Rory felt the need to say something.

10. On the Jon Rahm blowup: it goes without saying that it’s a bad look, and something that Soly touched on a few weeks ago when he followed him around at the Memorial. I love when guys show some fire on the course, and you can tell that Rahm legitimately cares about the fact that he wasn’t playing well, but showing a little more restraint is probably a good idea at this point.

11. Fox just keeps getting better with their coverage of this event, and I can honestly say that I don’t think there’s another broadcast that I’d rather watch. The obscene use of Pro Tracer is so good and the graphics package is phenomenal, plus they’ve incorporated data in ways that the other networks just haven’t done yet.

On top of that, they do something that both CBS and NBC could do a lot more of, and it’s literally the most basic thing that a golf broadcast can do: they show lots of golf shots. As nice as the Pro Tracer is, along with all of the ambient sound, they just show a ton of actual golf and it’s so appreciated. If you wanted to on the weekend, you could basically watch the entire field from start to finish with a commentary crew that has gotten better with each passing year.

Granted, it’s not perfect. Having Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe there to provide analysis before the rounds got underway is a crime that is so much worse than any other network has committed, and hopefully we never see that again, but aside from that, I don’t think you can really complain much about the way the tournament was presented to the viewers at home.

12. Shout out to Steve Stricker, who continues to amaze me as a 50-year old competing on the PGA Tour. Stricker was 6-under par on the weekend and finished tied for 16th on a course that should have been too long for him to navigate. There’s very little that I want to see more than Stricker win again on the PGA Tour, and with the way he’s playing, it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility.

13. Adam Scott is known as a poor putter by PGA Tour standards, but on Thursday, he gave a great example of why the guys who actually do this for a living are so, so much better than the rest of us. On the par-4 11th, Scott was left of the green and had a putt that would have honestly been a success if he got it to about fifteen feet. He got it to within tap in range.

Sure, there’s a little bit of luck involved in a putt like this, but there’s also a whole heap of ability and intelligence that goes along with it.

14. Most underrated round of the week? Jordan Spieth’s nice little 69 on Sunday morning when the conditions were at their toughest.

15. I want to preface this point by saying that Soly is a friend of mine, and we’re usually on the same page when it comes to takes. We could not be on more opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to this one though.

Tron already took him down, but I’ll say this about Noren: he has proven that he can win tournaments of significant importance in Europe, and even though I’m not the biggest supporter of the OWGR, he deserves a high place in the rankings. The events he won last year were against good fields, and were definitely better than a good portion of the events played on the PGA Tour, not to mention his win at Wentworth this year with a stunning final round 62 that will definitely go down as one of the rounds of the year on any tour. He is absolutely one of the best players in the world, and a phenomenal ball striker. I don’t know if he’s the 8th best player in the world, but to dismiss him outright is flat out wrong.

16. I didn’t think that I would miss Phil that much last week, but I actually did. Obviously we’ll never know how he would have done at Erin Hills had he teed it up, but after watching the way it all played out, I really do believe that the course set up great for him. Even though I’m sure he is content with his decision, if he was watching the event on television at all during the week, I have to think he’s kicking himself a bit for not being there.

I know I would have loved to see what he could do on a course where it was very difficult to miss the fairway.

17. On Sunday morning, I was trying to catch up on all of the writing from the previous two days at Erin Hills, and I was having a tough time. There’s so much quality content out there these days from both established and not-so established people that it’s really a great time to not only be a golf fan, but to learn more about the game that we all love. The best example of this is Andy Johnson, aka the Fried Egg, who convinced me of the greatness of Erin Hills, and is consistently putting out interesting stuff on a wide variety of topics. There’s no one writing about golf right now that I learn more from than Andy, and this past week was the greatest possible example of that. Brendan Porath called him “a shining light in the darkness of ignorant takes” this week on Andy’s podcast, and I can’t think of a better description.

Follow him and read everything he puts out.

18. To close this off this week, Shane Bacon tweeted this about why we’ve had so many first time winners recently in major championships:

On its face, it would be surprising to see guys like Spieth, Rory and DJ not win any of the next eight majors, but when you think about it, would you honestly be that surprised to see the next eight major championships go to some combination of these guys?

  • Hideki Matsuyama
  • Alex Noren
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Jon Rahm
  • Justin Thomas
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Patrick Reed
  • Paul Casey
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Tyrrell Hatton
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Thomas Pieters
  • Daniel Berger
  • Brandt Snedeker
  • Branden Grace
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick

I could go on, and on here. It’s a good reminder of how good it is to be a golf fan right now.

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