Brooks Koepka faced the toughest mental challenge in golf and won the day when winning the US Open for the second year in a row on Saturday. Mental letdown must be an issue so he is a shock favourite for this week’s Traveller’s Championship on the PGA Tour. Tommy Fleetwood was the runner-up in the US Open so seeing his name prominent in the betting for the BMW International Open in Europe was a surprise.
The week after a major is when you should oppose players who have just contended in one of the four biggest events of the year. Golf’s four major championships bring together the best players in the world on tough courses and everybody is trying. Golf is as much a mental test as physical challenge and though most golfers are in good shape fatigue in mind rather than body can be more debilitating. Golf is a sport in which mental errors are costly and be compounded quickly by another mistake.
It is rare for a player to defend a title in a regular tournament but to do so in a major is exceptional. The last player to win the US Open twice in two years was Curtis Strange who was the champion in 1988 and 1989. Koepka has also achieved the rare feat of having two majors in the bag having only won one of them. Many players have won two majors in total but very few have won them in the same championship. Bernhard Langer and Jose-Maria Olazabal are exceptions with just two Masters in their winning record in major championships.
Fleetwood played the last round in the US Open in 63 shots to come well off the pace and get right in the mix. Koepka led by one with five holes to play and knew one mistake would be crucial. In fact he played the 14th to 18th holes in level par to beat Fleetwood by one shot on one over par. The 2018 US Open again showed that par over 72 holes is a fine achievement and it was good enough to win this time. No player matched par over four rounds but conditions were brutal at certain times.
The action over the weekend in the US Open was as demanding for the players as it can get. Winning a major is huge and the level of concentration is unprecedented. Koepka and Fleetwood must have been mentally exhausted on Sunday evening so competing again three days later may be a test too far. In that case there must be some value further down the betting and this could be a week for outsiders. There are a number of players suited to the respective courses at big prices.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth had poor US Opens so are not the answer in the Traveller’s Championship. Sergio Garcia has not been the same golfer since becoming a parent for the first time earlier this year so looks a false second favourite to win the BMW International Open. The respective fields for both events look strong at the top end but once you eliminate players involved in the US Open with varying levels of success the outright winner market looks open.
Ryan Moore did not play in the US Open so he is fresh and rested which should give him an advantage over many leading contenders. He has recorded five top 20s in his last 10 starts. Moore has a great record in the tournament which includes five top 10s in 10 appearances. He combines solid current form and plenty of positive experiences of the course so is the player to back in opposition to the more fancied players. Thomas Pieters has a similar profile in the BMW International Open.