Brooks Koepka, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, became only the seventh player in the 118-year history of the tournament to win the championship in back-to-back years on Sunday at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. He would be the first to do it since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 and only the seventh ever to do it. Koepka entered Sunday’s fourth round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills tied for first at 3-over par after a brutal Saturday of play. Koepka has held the lead for much of the day on Sunday, had to hold off several players who were right at his heels. Tommy Fleetwood posted a ridiculous 63 on Sunday and sat in the clubhouse at 2-over par, putting the pressure on Koepka.
Before Strange, the last player to win the U.S. Open two years in a row was Ben Hogan, in 1950 and 1951. Ralph Guldahl accomplished the feat in 1937 and 1938 and Bobby Jones won in consecutive years as an amateur in 1929 and 1930. John McDermott, the first American-born U.S. Open winner took home the trophy in 1911 and 1912. Willie Anderson is the only player in the tournament’s history to win the title three years in a row. Anderson went back-to-back-to-back from 1903 to 1905, completing what is now known as a three-peat.
The U.S. Open is known for its challenging courses, making back-to-back winners a rarity. The road for Koepka to winning two U.S. Open championship trophies in a row wasn’t an easy one. On top of the tough test of playing at Shinnecock Hills, Koepka missed several months of golf with a partially torn tendon in his left wrist. He returned to play in April after four months off.
Koepka, 28, faced a much different task at this year’s tournament than he did in 2017 at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, when he ran away on the back nine on Sunday to win by four shots at 16-under par. This year, at the harrowing Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York, Koepka’s chances at a back-to-back performance seemed slim. He was six back after Thursday’s round and five back heading into the weekend. Despite the tough conditions on Saturday, Koepka stormed back into contention and tied for the lead. Koepka bounced his approach shot on the 18th hole off the grandstand, but then two-putted his way to a bogey to finish at 1-over par. On his way off the green, Koepka stopped for a moment with Strange, who now works as a Fox Sports analyst.
Here’s a look at the players who have won the U.S. Open in back-to-back years:
Curtis Strange, 1988 & 1989
Curtis Strange is the last player to win the U.S. Open in back-to-back years. Strange won the 1988 tournament at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, and then won the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. In 2014, Strange said that while he is proud of his accomplishment and hopes to hold on to his place as the last player to go back-to-back for as long as possible.
“I’m not like the Miami Dolphins. I don’t root against anybody every year. I don’t pop champagne on Sunday night,” Strange told USA Today. “But I think the longer it goes, the more fortunate I think I was because of those who haven’t done it. But the farther it goes, you know, the more proud I get of it. I get I was very, very fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time. It’s exciting. It’s nice to talk about it every year.”
“When I did it, I didn’t know Ben Hogan was the last back-to-back (winner), because nobody expected me to do it. It hadn’t been done in so long,” Strange said. “The first time I saw it written that week was Saturday morning in the paper when I had the lead. But I didn’t think much of it. And then I didn’t play well on Saturday, so I was three behind. So there wasn’t anything written on Sunday morning. And I played well on Sunday and prevailed, but there wasn’t a lot written that week.”
He joked that after his win at Oak Hill, “they thought, if I could do it, it can be done a bunch in the future. So do I want to see somebody do it? Not particularly. But I’m not rooting against somebody.”
Ben Hogan, 1950 & 1951
Before Strange did it decades later, legendary golfer Ben Hogan had been the last player to accomplish the feat. Hogan’s win in 1950 at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania included one of the most memorable shots in golf history, according to Golf.com. Hogan had been one of the top players of the 1940s, winning 10 tournaments, including the 1948 U.S. Open. But in February 1949, Hogan and his wife collided head-on with a Greyhound bus while driving in Texas. His wife survived with minor injuries, but Hogan broke his collarbone, pelvis and ankle. Doctors weren’t sure if he would ever play again. But he was back at the U.S. Open just 11 months later, his legs still bandaged.
His 1-iron shot at Merion on the 18th hole is legendary. “The photograph, taken from behind Hogan, captured him at the end of his follow through, poised as if posing, in perfect form, facing the green, left foot planted deep into the grass, right heel up, his 1-iron almost perfectly parallel to the ground. His ball hit the green and held, Hogan two-putted to force a playoff, and the next day won the U.S. Open. It was so incredible that only a year later Hollywood would make a movie about it – “Follow the Sun” with Glenn Ford playing Hogan, and Anne Baxter as his wife Valerie,” the Gold Channel wrote.
In 1951, Hogan took home his second U.S. Open win in a row at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.
Ralph Guldahl, 1937 & 1938
Ralph Guldahl won the 1937 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan and the 1938 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. Guldahl was a self-taught Texan who dominated the golf tour before quitting after the birth of his son in 1935, according to his New York Times obituary. He came back a year and a half later and was even better, surpassing his rival, Sam Snead.
“In the final round of the 1937 Open, Guldahl was on the 10th tee when Snead, playing his first Open, eagled the 18th hole and finished with a 283 and a seemingly certain victory. Guldahl finished with a 281, and Snead never won an Open,” the Times wrote. “In the 1939 Masters, Guldahl was again on the the 10th tee when Snead holed out the on the 18th for a 280. A couple of birdies and an eagle later, Guldahl finished with a 279. Although he played sporadically in the late 1940’s, Guldahl was never a serious contender on the tour after World War II. As he later explained, ‘I never did have a tremendous desire to win.'”
Bobby Jones, 1929 & 1930
Bobby Jones, one of the greatest American golfers in history, won the U.S. Open in 1929 at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York and in 1930 at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota. He was an amateur during both tournaments.
John McDermott, 1911 & 1912
John McDermott became the first golfer born in the United States to win the U.S. Open in 1911 at the Chicago Golf Club in Illionis. One year later, at the Country Club of Buffalo, in New York, he did it again.
Willie Anderson, 1903 & 1904 and 1904 & 1905
Willie Anderson, a Scottish-born golfer, is the only player to ever win three U.S. Open tournaments in a row. Anderson, who had won the 1901 tournament, took home the trophy at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey in 1903, at Glen View Club in Illinois in 1904 and at Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts in 1905.