Following Brooks Koepka was a good idea until the Ryder Cup rookie tried to hit the Americans’ second shot on the 12th hole of Saturday morning’s foursome matches at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
To an amateur golfer, even typing the word for the game’s most infectious and enduring miss-hit feels like spreading a petri dish of smallpox on the morning bagel. Watching the Titleist shoot so far right that golf analyst David Feherty yelps, “That’s not something you see every day,” might require a sports psychologist to wipe from the memory bank.
Golf is such a mental minefield. As we found out last week, it’s the only sport in which poor Hal Sutton gets blamed 12 years later for setting Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods up to fail by pairing them together when they were the top two golfers in the galaxy.
Now, back to that sha--.
When Koepka did that, he and Brandt Snedeker were all square with Henrik Stenson and Matthew Fitzpatrick. The initial reaction was to think, “Oh, boy, Brooks is finished.” He just sha--ed it in the Ryder Cup. Some of us start shaking inside when we sha-- it in front of our buddy Joe.
But Koepka’s immediate response helps explain why U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III said, “Brooks is a cool customer. He’s a guy you can trust on the big stage.”
After amazingly halving the 12th hole with a bogey, it was the long-hitting 24-year-old Koepka who grabbed a 4-iron for the 253-yard par-3 13th.
Yeah. A 4-iron.
Then, in his first full swing since his sha--, Koepka hit a 4-iron that sounded like an explosion. The ball stopped 6 feet from the hole.
“I was lucky enough to be on the range when Brooks was hitting,” said Joe Stansberry, a local teaching professional and past winner of Minnesota’s state amateur and open tournaments. “I’ve got video of his swing, and the sound is amazing. He’s just got a different sound than any other player out here. Maybe Tiger had that sound years ago, but I haven’t heard anybody else make that sound.”
Snedeker made the 6-foot birdie putt to go 1-up. It was the first of four consecutive birdies that he and Koepka would make on their way to a 3 and 2 victory — the only win the U.S. would get in the morning matches.
On the par-5 16th, Koepka had 239 yards to the front of a green guarded by water. He had 261 to the pin. He grabbed the 4-iron again and put the ball on the front fringe.
With no choice but to go for the green, Fitzpatrick, also a Ryder Cup rookie, grabbed a fairway wood. He hooked it badly into the greenside pond and the Euros lost the hole with a double bogey. Koepka became the first American rookie since Keegan Bradley to go 2-0 by winning in both four-ball and foursome formats.
“I think we hit maybe three fairways all day,” said Koepka, who birdied four holes in the afternoon four-ball matches while he and Dustin Johnson lost 3 and 1 to Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters. “But we grinded it out. We’ve got a lot of grit.”
And to think it all came after the sha--.
“He’s an upright player — his irons are 1½ degrees upright and an inch longer — so the shank for an upright swing is going to be more likely because the swing is steep,” Stansberry said. “Even in these matches, guys are going to hit a shank. I think players at this level they recognize, ‘Hey, I’ve hit 10,000 shots and I’ve only had one shank. The odds of it happening again are low.’
“But, still, to step up on that 253-yard par-3 and hit your next shot like he did? That’s amazing.”
It sure was. Now, if the rest of us can only un-see that sha--.