At the US Open, Brooks Koepka is in his Happy Place, and in Contention

BROOKLINE, Mass. – As Brooks Koepka strode down the first fairway on a humid Friday morning, a fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothing.

“It’s a great day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here, ”the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”

Koepka, wearing a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale green cap in the second round of the US Open, heeded the fan’s advice, rebounding from an opening round 73 to post three-under-par 67.

That put him at even par after two rounds and in a familiar position – within striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the cut in his last seven US Opens and finished no worse than tied for 18th.

Koepka, who won the US Open in 2017 with a score of 16 under par, and won again in 2018, speaks almost paternalistically about the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted toward the majors – those are the only events he has played since late March – and he seems to be thriving on the challenges presented by this particular tournament.

“I love this event,” he said. “This event has always been good to me.”

It ‘s hard to argue otherwise. Koepka is the most successful US Open player of the last week.

No one else in the 156-man field has won two US Opens. The last four times he has played in the tournament – he missed the open in 2020 because of knee and hip injuries – he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place finish in 2019 and a tie for the fourth in 2021, finishes that Koepka has earned more than $ 6 million. In those four events, only four players – Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English – have finished ahead of Koepka.

“That’s pretty cool,” Koepka said, while adding, “I wish it was less.”

He is one of only seven players to win consecutive US Opens; The last to do it before Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.

But given his lack of tournament play this year, it was difficult to predict how well the 32-year-old, four-time major champion – he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 – would fare. He missed the cut at the Masters. And he’s attributed his underwhelming performance at the PGA Championship in May – a tie for 55th – to focus more on his upcoming wedding.

“I was waiting for that party,” he said of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.

Afterward, Koepka retreated to his home in Jupiter, Fla., For four days with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any talk of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.

“I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on,” he said. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I love it but at the same time, I’ve got other stuff I like to do. The wedding was a big thing. Now it’s over and I can go and play golf. “

He became irritated with reporters at his pre-tournament news conference on Tuesday, chiding him for asking him and other golfers questions about the LIV Golf International Series, the Saudi-financed rebel golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with enormous paydays. The tour will play its second event, one of five in the United States, near Portland, Ore., Beginning on June 30.

Koepka’s star power and penchant for downtime make him an ideal target for the upstart tour, which has so far started the shotgun with eight, 54-hole events, no cuts and huge purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who have resigned their PGA Tour membership, or have been suspended from the Tour, because they joined the LIV Golf Series, are still playing the four major tournaments that have not been run by the PGA Tour, though that may have changed.)

Koepka, ranked 19th in the world, could also command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to receive as much as $ 200 million and Johnson as much as $ 150 million to join LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, plays on the tour.

“I’m here. I’m here at the US Open, “Brooks Koepka said when asked about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the US Open. I’m tired of all this stuff. “

Koepka got off to an inauspicious start to his favorite tournament. His first-round 73 left him at three over par and in a tie for 79th place when his day began on Friday. It matched the second-worst round he has shot over the last seven US Opens. Twice, he opened with a 75. On one of those occasions, in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, he rallied to win the tournament.

In his first time playing at the Country Club, Koepka had three birdies and six bogeys, including three straight on his back nine. A similar performance in the second round would have left Koepka packing for home. But he would have none of it.

A long birdie putt on the difficult third hole had him one under par for the day after nine holes. It could have been even better. He missed makable birdie putts on the first, seventh and eighth holes. After a bogey on No. 10, he responds with birdies on the next two holes, and an eagle on the no. 14. He missed a short putt for par. 15 but made par on the final three holes.

Koepka lamented what he called his poor iron play. “That’s usually the strongest part of my game,” he said. He promised a quick fix. He drove the ball superbly and served notice of the rest of the field that he planned to be around and in contention this weekend.

“I don’t come here hoping for a second place,” he said. “I think if you are a good player, you want to come in here and win. That ‘s why everybody is teeing it up.

He continued, “Nobody has a goal just making the cut or anything like that. I mean, I’m pretty confident, but I feel like everybody should be confident in themselves, and if you’re not – people hate confidence. That’s why people aren’t a big fan of me. “

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