clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017 U.S. Open: Champion Brooks Koepka draws comparisons to Dustin Johnson

Defending champ DJ shared his U.S. Open-winning strategy with Brooks Koepka on eve of finale at Erin Hills.

PGA: Ryder Cup Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods used to be the gold standard for comparisons when a golfer played out of his FootJoys and won a major championship. Remember when Graeme McDowell labeled 2011 U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy “the next Tiger Woods” and Padraig Harrington tapped the young Ulsterman to overtake Tiger and Jack Nicklaus for the all-time majors title?

Well, the latest indication that Tiger, the winner of 14 majors who has not won an event since 2013 or competed since February, is yesterday’s headline is the gushing by players, pundits, and coaches over the similarity between Sunday’s U.S. Open winner, Brooks Koepka, and his close friend and last year’s champ, Dustin Johnson.

The parallel talk took off like Koepka’s rocket shot to the 18th green in Sunday’s finale after the newly crowned national champion recounted how a conversation on the eve of the final round with Johnson motivated him to torch the course and the field on his way to matching McIlroy for the lowest 72-hole score to par (16-under) in Open history.

“Dustin actually called me (Saturday) night and told me … ‘Just stay patient. Just keep doing what you're doing, you're going to win the thing, and just don't get ahead of yourself,’” Koepka told reporters after firing a 5-under 67 on Sunday to win by four shots over Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman.

“There's probably not that much that's that interesting to be honest. It was a long phone call. For us it was like two minutes,” Koepka said to laughter. “It wasn't much. But he just said a few things, and just stay patient. And I'll win if I stay patient and just keep doing what I'm doing.”

Koepka, who trains and socializes with DJ and stayed with him last week at Erin Hills, recounted how Johnson watched him play during their Tuesday practice round.

“He said he was pulling for me and ‘just hang in there, it will happen,’” he said.

Both Koepka and Johnson appear unfazed by anything on the golf course, and the similar way they both amble across the fairways caused several observers on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Monday to note their resemblances.

“Brooks is in the mold of Dustin Johnson,” Billy Horschel said. “There’s not much that affects him. Nothing affects DJ. Maybe Brooks is one level up, in the sense of maybe a tiny thing affects him but not much at all.”

Damon Hack was just one of the talking heads who noted that the two big hitters even walk alike.

(Photo via Golf Channel)

“They’re sauntering down the fairway like a cat, like a panther,” Hack pointed out. “And that’s a calmness that, at least [from the outside], it looks like [they were] meant to win major championships. This connection, this friendship, the fact DJ won the U.S. Open the year before, the fact they work out together” — a factoid that did not escape the eagle eyes of those in the Fox Sports broadcasting booth.

Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III, discussed how the placid demeanor of the two major champions worked in their favor.

“They’re very flat-line type guys on and off the golf course. It’s not an act. What you see on the golf course is kind of the calmness and the walk is the way they are both on and off the golf course,” said Harmon, son of DJ’s coach, Butch Harmon. “I think what we’re seeing is that’s a very good place to be if you’re a golfer, specifically, and an athlete. They don’t get too high and they don't get too low so over the course of a round of golf and over the course of a four-day tournament you can keep your emotions in check and not have too many peaks and valleys.”

Indeed, said Harmon, both players practice what mental coaches have been preaching for years.

“One shot at a time, stay in the present, don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future, think about where you are right now in the moment,” Harmon said. “You just wouldn’t think of guys like DJ and Brooks as being like the embodiment of what sports psychologists talk about but they really are.”

Koepka took lessons he learned from his mentor, DJ, to Sunday’s final round and made the pressure-packed afternoon look like a walk in the park.

“I thought about that phone call on 14 today,” Koepka said on Golf Central Live From the U.S. Open show Sunday night, about the hole on which he made the first of three straight birdies to pull away from the competition. “I thought about that and tried not to get ahead of myself, stay patient, and it worked.”

To Claude Harmon, drafting off Johnson’s winning ways gives Koepka an enormous intangible edge.

“Any time you can spend time with the No. 1 player in your sport its a huge advantage,” said Harmon, who pointed to Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman having access “back in the day” to Tiger Woods.

“To spend time with someone who’s at the heights of their game and who is the benchmark, I think it’s huge,” he added. “For Dustin to be as close as he is with Brooks in the practice rounds that they play and the time that they spend off the golf course, socially and at the gym, it’s given Brooks tremendous motivation and makes him want to try and achieve the things that Dustin is achieving.

“I think that’s a very good place for Brooks to be, mentally,” said Harmon.