There is one man alive who can relate to what Brooks Koepka did Sunday, and he happened to be standing in proximity the entire time — up to and including the U.S. Open trophy presentation.
That is Curtis Strange, who in his role as a Fox reporter/analyst followed Koepka and Dustin Johnson around Shinnecock Hills as Koepka became the first man since Strange in 1988 and ’89 to win back-to-back Opens.
Koepka also is only the seventh person to do it and the second in the past 67 years.
Strange still was on an emotional high from the experience when he spoke to Newsday immediately after the presentation.
“It was a joy to watch somebody perform at that level and to do something special,” he said. “I was just glad to be a part of it, seriously. I love watching these guys perform beyond what you think they can. It’s fantastic.”
Strange’s colleagues had joked on the air that in the gallery of back-to-back winners, he was the only one whose picture was in color. Now there will be another. But Strange, 63, made it clear that he is not ready to fade into history.
“You know, they haven’t taken anything away from me,” he said. “He just joined the six of us. Now there’s seven of us. It’s fantastic. It is a little interesting, coincidental or whatever, but I’m just glad I got to be a part of it . . . I take my hat off to him. Now: three in a row!”
Asked if he sees similarities between him and Koepka, Strange said: “No, gosh, no. He’s got more talent in his little finger than a lot of us ever had . . . He’s going to be around for a long time. He’s young . . . Man, he’s a jock. He’s your linebacker. I want him on my team.”
Strange was one of the top players on the PGA Tour in the mid-to-late 1980s, but he never won another tour event after the ’89 Open at Oak Hill. He and Koepka hugged after Koepka completed his round.
During the trophy presentation, Strange asked Koepka, “Do you know how special this is — back-to-back, last year and today?”
Said Koepka: “I don’t, to be honest. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Asked later if he thinks Koepka, 29 years from now, will appreciate what he did more than he did Sunday, Strange said, “Oh, it takes time. It takes time . . . I hope he appreciates this half as much as I did, and do. But I ain’t gone anywhere. They ain’t taking a damn thing from me.”
His voice cracked when he added, “You know what: The longer it went, the more it meant.”
Now he has company at last.