Brooks Koepka

USA Today

United States Open Is Here

The USGA has gotten out of its own way.

June 13, 2019 - 10:21 am
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It might not have a theme song. It might not have an official flower. And the winner might not get a sport coat or an invite to a champion’s dinner afterwards—but you don’t need any of that this week. Because it’s still our nation’s championship golf tournament, dammit! And the four-day torture fest known as the United States Open—is here.

And this year, for the first time since that colossal disaster in 2015 at Chambers Bay—a major championship has returned to the West Coast. And not just to any track, either. Pebble Freaking Beach is the venue. The most iconic golf course in the world not named St. Andrews or Augusta National. 18 holes perfectly carved into the most scenic and dramatic head-on meeting of rugged coastline and ocean anyone has ever seen.

As is the case with every US Open—the conversation usually and unfortunately starts with the USGA. Because the USGA has been known to throw a circus tent over the world’s best tracks and turn them into clown shows. The most recent example came last year at Shinnecock when the golf course completely got away from them. But by all reports—that’s not gonna be the case this year. According to Steve Elkington and other tour pros who have walked and played Pebble already this week—the course is in perfect shape. Yes the greens have been rolled down to marble countertops, and the fairways have been shrunk to pencil thin, and the rough has been grown out to ankle high spaghetti—but that’s to be expected at the US Open. It’s branded as golf’s toughest test. And it should be. But nothing this week is going to be unfair. Unpleasant? Sure. But unfair? No. So thankfully the USGA has gotten out its own way. For once.

Which means this tourney is gonna come down to the players? Not the over-zealous governing body of the event. And in a sport where it’s become all about who can bomb it the furthest and stick lob wedges anywhere near the stick—Pebble Beach is going to largely take driver out of everyone’s hand and demand controlled precision from tee-to-green.

Brooks Koepka is the two-time defending US Open champion. And the conversation has to start to with him. Not just because he’s bagged the last two but because no one on the planet has been able to dial up their game for majors quite like this guy since the Cat was doing the same thing in the early to mid-2000. And he’s not just some grip-it-and-rip-it one dimensional player. Dude has the mind to win these kinds of tournaments. And winning at Pebble this week is going to take more than what’s in the bag. It’s going to take a whole helluva lot of what’s between the ears. Pebble is going to chew up everyone out there. The key is not getting spit out. The key is hanging in there, weathering the storm, choking down the medicine, and not puking it back up. And Brooks did just that last month at the PGA when he leaked oil all over Bethpage on the back nine but still had the mental makeup to get the plane down two shots ahead of Dustin Johnson. He’s built for this kind of event. And he’s got the hardware to prove it.

Then there’s Tiger Woods. The Cat. The guy who arguably played the best 72 holes in the history of golf when he threw Pebble Beach into the Pacific back in 2000 and won the event by 15 strokes. The only thing bigger than that margin of victory is the number of years since it happened. And if you’re thinking that’s going to happen again—think again. I’m not saying the Cat can’t win. But I sure as hell am saying he’s going not going to hang a 272 on Pebble. The best news for Tiger is that Pebble is going to keep his driver in the bag. And if he can shape his long irons beneath the hole and he’s got that Scotty cooking—then, yes, he’s absolutely a factor this week. How the hell can anyone count this guy out? Not only did he win the Masters in April, but he contended at the top of the board in two majors last year. And no one grinds out scores like this guy. No one. But it’s going to take all his accuracy and all his nerves on the greens to pull off number 16. And if he gets off to one of his notoriously slow starts today like he did last month at the PGA, it’s gonna be an extra difficult task—and maybe a really short week.

Rory is coming in red hot off that that dominating win at Canadian Open. But this week’s tournament couldn’t be any more different. It’s pretty easy to keep your dome when you’re hammering 340-drives into massive fairways and playing baby wedges into oversized greens. That ain’t Pebble. And not only has Rory gone 5 years without winning a major—dude has gone three years without a making a cut at the US Open. And ever since he won the event back in 2011, he’s finished in the top-10 just once, and left on Friday night four times in the last seven years. You can buy into last week’s Canadian Open—but I’m not getting near this guy.

Keep an eye on Jordan Spieth who is making a quiet bounce back after 18 months of the most frustrating golf of his career. He’s never been the longest guy on Tour but you don’t have to be here. And as a three-time major winner, he could get hot.

Dustin Johnson has won a US Open before but he’s also choked away two. And the best part of his game is rendered almost obsolete at Pebble. So he’s a tough pick. Then there’s Rickie Fowler—who has never won a major before but is the best putter on the planet. And if he can get ball beneath the hole this week—he just might be able to shed that backhanded gloss about being the best who’s never won.

One more guy before I make my pick. Phil Mickelson. Here’s all I’m going to say about the 6-time runner up who’s going for the career slam. If this guy can get off the course without turning into a hockey player and stick handling his ball before it comes to rest—then this week will be a raging success for him. That’s the bar, Hefty. Do your best to step over it.

If you’re looking for some off the board pick—you’re not gonna get it. I’m going with Brooks. I have to. He’s earned that respect. Four majors in his last eight starts gets you the automatic nod. I’m totally fine with picking him and being wrong. But I can’t live with not picking him and watching him three-peat. He’s the two-time defending champ. He’s the best player in the world. And he’s swinging his sticks on a different planet right now. Brooks Koepka to win the US Open. Might not be a flashy pick, but it doesn’t have to be. Until this guy shows me a reason not to take him—I’m taking him. And I feel good about it.

Nothing left to do but put the peg in the ground at the last stop on 17 Mile Drive. Let’s do the damn thing.