For those with foresight, Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open win at Erin Hills wasn’t much of a surprise.
For some, Kopeka’s stardom first took shape when they think of the swagger the young man displayed on golf’s brightest stage at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Over the three-day tournament at Hazeltine, Koepka was absolutely essential for team U.S.A.
He wanted to be there badly, so bad, in fact, that he finalized his roster spot by playing on a bum ankle a month earlier at the PGA Championship. Through pain, Koepka finished fourth. At the Ryder Cup, the professional golfer was teamed with Brandt Snedeker. The duo posted two spirited, necessary wins over Europe. But Koepka saved his best for Sunday. In his singles match versus 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, Koepka was flawless. He would only need fourteen holes to defeat Willett, as Koepka shot 6 under for an easy 5 and 4 win. Snedeker tried to warn the world that Koepka was on the verge of greatness: “This guy needs to know how good he is,” he said, “And he’s starting to figure it out right now.”
After two 2nd place finishes this season on the PGA TOUR and an 11th place finish at the Masters, Koepka fulfilled Snedeker’s prophecy at Erin Hills. What was the secret ingredient to his win? Simply put, he added muscle to what was already a sturdy frame that helped increase golf’s fastest swing. Attributing his devastating length off the tee to a weightlifting program suggested by close friend Dustin Johnson, Koepka turned the longest U.S. Open course in history to a mere playground.
Koepka’s victory at Erin Hills
After putting the tournament away late Sunday with three straight birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes, Koepka stepped up to the 18th tee and hit his 3-wood for a drive of 379 yards. It was a display of strength that personified how Koepka had dominated, not only the field, but a course that was set to be one of the toughest in recent memory. This was, of course, before heavy rains removed the teeth from Erin Hills. The soft greens gave way not only to Koepka’s historic performance, but also to Justin Thomas’ 63 on Saturday. Thomas’ score broke Johnny Miller’s long-standing record for the best round in a major. In addition to Thomas’ single day record, the 16-under total for the tournament posted by Koepka tied with Rory McIlroy’s 2011 record for lowest total in a U.S. Open.
Despite the flash and glitz of Koepka’s win, his stardom didn’t come about overnight. After graduating from Florida State in 2012, Koepka missed out on the PGA TOUR later that year by bombing his Q-school audition. The alternative for the golfer was to hack away in the Challenge tour, which is—essentially—the minor leagues of European golf. Koepka struggled all over Europe and Asia. He slept in overcrowded hotel rooms and in the back of cars. He began to appreciate golf and the discipline that becoming a professional demanded.
As he made his way back to the States, Koepka caught the eye of Butch Harmon’s son Claude. A talented teacher like his father, Claude saw enormous potential in Koepka. Once he restored Koepka’s confidence, the young golfer made his way back to the PGA TOUR. Over his first two seasons, Koepka responded by winning his first PGA TOUR event, posting three top-10 finishes in majors performing a masterful Ryder Cup game at Hazeltine.
As Koepka cruised through the back nine at Erin Hills on his way to his first major championship, the world took notice. Perhaps it helped that shadowing his every move was new girlfriend, Jena Sims. The beautiful actress became a social media sensation moments after Fox announcer Joe Buck called her by Koepka’s old girlfriend’s name.
So, as the world caught up with Koepka’s story, the golfer calmly pulled ahead, never to look back. As he sat before the press after the pictures had all been taken and the congratulatory hugs and handshakes delivered, the golfer assured a reporter that throughout the four rounds he had never been nervous.
When you know the path Koepka has walked to hold the U.S. Open trophy, you undoubtedly believe him.
See also: Tiger Woods’ Top Ten Greatest Moments