Brooks Koepka still smiles at the memory of the 9-irons he hit in the final round of his second straight U.S. Open victory.
Yes, that’s plural. They were on consecutive holes on the back nine at Shinnecock Hills.
The one that led to birdie was memorable. The one that led to par was “by far the best shot.”
It’s like that at every major championship. There are signature shots that everyone remembers, the one that gets shown during brief recaps. And there is always one shot that is memorable to the player that might not get its due because it doesn’t seem all that significant at the time.
For as much magic the Masters delivers, there wasn’t anything overly dramatic about Patrick Reed’s 71 for a one-shot victory. He made two birdies on the back nine, and the one that stands out was his 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 12th that allowed him to seize control.
“It was a soft 9-iron,” he said. “When I made that putt is when I thought I could play par coming in and I can win the tournament.”
The shot that stands out to him was on Thursday, a cut drive through the chute of trees to the fairway. Never mind that he put his approach into the bunker and had to scramble to save par for a 69, leaving him three shots behind.
“That hole always has given me a hard time hitting the fairway,” he said. “To hit the cut and get it in play, now I know that’s a shot I could hit all week.”
And he did on Sunday, leading to his two-putt par and one-shot win.
Koepka was 1-over par with no room for error in the final round because Tommy Fleetwood had posted his 63 and was in at 2-over 282. The defending champ already had made a pair of 8-foot par saves and really had one birdie chance left. It was the par-5 16th, and no bargain with a back pin. The distance suggested pitching wedge. Koepka had other ideas.
Koepka decided to flight a 9-iron low, and it checked up about 3 feet past the hole for a birdie and a two-shot lead.
“It was nice to have that extra cushion,” he said.
He felt he needed it based on the pin position at the par-3 17th, which he described as a landing area 12 feet wide and 12 feet deep. He thought about an 8-iron until he factored in the adrenaline.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it was to hold that green,” he said. “And that’s coming in with a 9-iron. He wound up itching it 6 feet over the bunker and kept it on. I should have hit 8, but I was a little juiced.”
When he donates a club to the USGA, it likely will be a 9-iron.
“The 16th was more memorable for everybody else,” he said. “But 17 was by far the best shot.”
No one was steadier than Francesco Molinari on a wild final day at Carnoustie in the British Open. He didn’t make a bogey over the last 37 holes. And while there was nothing overly spectacular, his brilliance was in being in the right position.
The shot that clinched Italy’s first major was a lob wedge over the Barry Burn to 5 feet for a birdie and a two-shot victory.
“I thought par would give me a chance. If I could get it close and hole the putt, it would be more likely,” he said of winning. “Actually, the lie wasn’t great. It was sitting down a little bit. I was trying to make good contact and a bit of luck that it released the way it needed to.”
But it was the par on the 17th that he thought won him the tournament.
“A 2-iron straight into the wind is a lot harder than a lob wedge,” Molinari said.
Making it even harder was the memory of a double bogey on the 17th hole in the second round from a similar spot, a shot that narrowly missed the green and plugged in the bunker. He had about 217 yards for his second shot in the final round.
“It came out just beautiful,” he said. “Those last two holes, every shot is very important.”
Not only was Koepka’s tee shot on the par-4 16th at Bellerive the best shot at the PGA Championship, it arguably was the signature shot of all the majors last year. He hit a 4-iron from 248 yards — “a laser of a shot,” he called it — to about 7 feet below the hole for a birdie and the cushion he needed to win his second major of the year.
“Probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit under pressure,” Koepka said.
The back nine produced another shot he considered important. It was on Saturday, right about the time Koepka was starting to lose ground on a course that produced the lowest scoring ever in a major.
He was coming off a bogey on the 14th hole in the third round when Koepka’s drive wound up under a tree and he took a one-shot penalty to move it away. From there, he went well left of the green, with a pin on the left side. He got up-and-down and made bogey.
“That could have been a disaster,” Koepka said. “It was a momentum thing. I don’t want to leak oil coming in. I hit such an awful wedge. And to get it up-and-down, I was even impressed myself.”