It lasted two minutes, long by their standards, Koepka said. But in those two minutes, Johnson, winner of the 2016 U.S. Open, misser of the cut this year, imparted a little wisdom.
Johnson was in Koepka’s shoes last year: Entering the final round of the U.S. Open in second place, never having won a major, underachieving, even if by his own standards. Then Johnson went out and won the thing and is now the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
So on the eve of the final round of this year’s U.S. Open, Johnson called to provide a little guidance: “Don’t fall down the stairs,” he said.
Actually, that’s not what he said, though that would have been sage advice. No, what he said was, “Stay patient, just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to win the thing. Just don’t get ahead of yourself.”
Which is exactly what Koepka did. He took his chances when they were there (birdies on the first two holes, some of the easiest of the day), made par when that’s all there was (when the wind gusted through the middle of his round) and finally stepped on the gas at 14 when the wind died down.
That’s when Koepka carded three birdies in a three-hole stretch and turned a precarious one-stroke advantage into an insurmountable four-stroke lead, and, eventually, a record-setting U.S. Open victory.
It’s undoubtedly the most important 45 minutes of the 28-year-old’s entire golf career, one that bounced him from West Palm Beach (Florida) to Florida State and eventually a mini-tour in Europe, where the game became such a grind that he considered quitting.
“I don’t want to say homesick, I was just tired of golf,” he explained. “Tired of traveling. … For some reason I just wanted to get out and go home. I don’t know why.”
He stayed, won a tournament the very next day, earning him his card on the European Tour and, with a fourth-place finish in the 2014 U.S. Open, earned his PGA Tour card.
Still, he’s felt like he’s underachieved.
“I’d won once on the PGA Tour, once on the European Tour, and I felt like I put myself in contention so many times,” he explained. “And I don’t want to say got unlucky, I felt like I just never fully came together.
“I just felt like I should be winning more. I don’t know why. It’s one of those things, not a big fan of losing. I don’t think anyone out here is. And I just couldn’t stand the fact that I’d only won once.”
So there he was, Saturday night, one stroke out of the lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open. Another chance, a massive one, and the call came in from Johnson.
“I’ll win if I stay patient,” Koepka said, replaying the phone conversation.
If there was any doubt he heeded the advice, all you had to do was watch his celebration on 18 after he won the thing. Technically he hadn’t won yet – there were still players on the course – but he held a four-stroke lead, which at that point was insurmountable. Still, after holing out, Koepka offered nothing more than a modest fist pump and a hug of his caddie.
“It was a long phone call,” Koepka said. “It was like, two minutes.”
Whatever. It worked.