ERIN, Wis. – Brian Harman had just tied for second at the 117th U.S. Open, had just beaten 154 of the best players in the universe, had just won $1.05 million for a week’s work and had just jumped into the top 10 in the Presidents Cup standings.
That’s a lot of good. But he wasn’t in a warm-and-fuzzy mood.
Standing on the 12th green hours earlier, Harman, the Open’s 54-hole leader, still was tied with Brooks Koepka at the top of the board, a robust 13 under par. He’d made only two bogeys over 65 holes. Then he made two straight, Koepka ran off three birdies, and as Harman describes, “It was lights out.”
Just like that, a week filled with so much promise would end short of the desired finish line. Throw all the positives you’d like at Harman, whose 12-under total after a bogey at the 72nd hole would have won 115 other U.S. Opens (and played off at one other). He wasn’t in any mood to pat himself on the back.
“I don’t believe in moral victories,” he said. “I had an opportunity today, and I didn’t get it done. But at the same time I don’t feel as though I lost a golf tournament. I think Brooks went out and won the tournament.”
Harman wasn’t alone. Rickie Fowler (72) entered a major Sunday with a good shot at victory for the second time since April, but didn’t get much going. Justin Thomas, another twentysomething chasing first-time major glory, followed his sizzling U.S. Open-record 63 with a flat 75. See you all next year.
It’s not easy to win on the PGA Tour, and even more difficult to capture a major. On the PGA Tour Champions, they seem to play majors all summer long, but on the regular tour there are but four chances each year. Erin Hills, a first-time major venue, had managed to weed out the world’s top three players – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day – before the weekend arrived.
So the door was left wide open. Koepka, 27, stepped through it, shooting 67 in the most demanding conditions of the week.
But that doesn’t mean the others won’t relive their Sundays for a while.
This was a different U.S. Open from the start, played across a sprawling 652-acre field. The tournament may have wrapped up on Father’s Day – Koepka hoped that his new U.S. Open trophy made up for not getting his dad, Bob, a card – but this wasn’t your father’s U.S. Open.
The U.S. Golf Association was coming off a couple of sub-par performances at Chambers Bay and Oakmont, the latter overshadowed by a Sunday rules controversy. It was imperative the USGA get this one right, and it did.
To ensure that result, the organization tread cautiously at Erin Hills, opting for sensibility as it felt out its setup options. Evening rains and gentle winds left the course open to scoring for three days, and players peppered the place. Thirty-one players finished under par.
But the tournament produced a quality winner and had an exciting Sunday right up until the moment Koepka shifted into a different gear. Isn’t that better than watching players miss tight fairways, chop out of impossible rough and win at 7-over 287?
And if the newness of Erin Hills bothered the traditionalist inside, don’t fret: A steady decade-long diet of the golden oldies (Shinnecock, Pebble, Winged Foot, Oakmont, etc.) awaits.
Fowler, like Harman, can take positives from another decent major showing but has to wonder when his day will arrive. When he finished top-5 in all four majors in 2014 and seriously contended at the PGA (Valhalla), Fowler was thought to be a lock just waiting in the on-deck circle. Three years later, he’s still waiting.
“I feel like golf-wise, I’m playing at the highest level,” Fowler said. “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. … I felt like I did a lot of good things, especially in the first round (65), executing my game plan. To finish in double digits under par at a major championship, especially the (U.S.) Open, it was a good week.”
A good week?
Only one guy had a great week. He left with the U.S. Open trophy.
As for Harman, who isn’t the biggest player on Tour – he’s 5 feet 7 – he says he always has competed with a chip on his shoulder.
The runner-up’s silver medal he received Sunday? It’ll remind him that he wants to upgrade. He showed he has the game and the guts. This week, there was just one man better.