Healthy Koepka Shows He Still Has Major Game
It was Harper Lee who imparted that bit of wisdom in To Kill A Mockingbird about never really knowing a man until you walk around in his shoes. That’s good advice in general, and especially this week in Augusta, as Brooks Koepka reminds the greater game of golf how good he really is – and how far he has had to travel to come back from a rash of rather debilitating injuries.
It also serves as a reminder as to just how difficult a journey like that can be. And Koepka spoke to that after firing a nearly flawless 65 the first day of play at the 2023 Masters – and following that up with a second-round 67 on Friday that included an eagle on one of Augusta National’s par 5s (No. 8) and birdies on the other three (Nos. 2, 13 and 15) that he completed before an expected onset of thunderstorms.
“I’m healthy,” he said Thursday. “I can move the way I want to. If your body won’t allow you to do the things you want to, it’s frustrating and all of a sudden you create a lot of bad habits and then try to work out the unhealthiness. It takes a while, but when you break free, it’s kind of nice. Waking up pain-free. Being able to move. Not having to get shot up to play.”
For a two-year stretch from 2017 to 2019, the 32-year-old Florida native was the best player in the world, winning a pair of U.S. Opens and PGA Championships and twice being named PGA Tour Player of the Year. He also came very close to winning a Masters, finishing tied for second in the Tournament in 2019.
Stoic and strong, he seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder, daring any and all competitors to try and knock it off. Few could.
Then, the health issues started to pile up. A partially torn patella tendon in his left knee that he exacerbated when he slipped on damp concrete at the 2020 Shriners Children’s Open sidelined him for much of that year. When Koepka did play, he often played well. But he admitted after tying for 43rd in the Genesis Open that he was nowhere near 100 percent and still in pain.
He came back strong in 2021, winning the early-season Phoenix Open, but then he injured his right knee so badly in a fall at home that he had to undergo surgery in March of that year.
“I dislocated my knee, and then I tried to put it back in,” Koepka said. “And that’s when I shattered my kneecap and during the process tore my (medial patellofemoral ligament).”
And while he did manage to finish second after that (to Phil Mickelson) at the 2021 PGA Championship, tie for fourth at the U.S. Open and then tie for sixth at The Open Championship, Koepka knew he was a long way from being back to full strength.
“They told me getting out of surgery that it was going to be pretty much a year and a half,” he added.
He was hurting for a good long time. Badly, too. But not so overtly that golf fans – and maybe most of his fellow tour professionals – truly understood the depth of his physical and mental despair. At least not until he spoke so openly about it at Augusta National on Thursday.
Only then did the golf world really get a sense of what it might have been like walking in his shoes the past couple of years.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “I mean, getting out of bed took 15 minutes just to even feel kind of right. It was frustrating not being able to move how I want to.”
In fact, Koepka became so discouraged that after missing the cut at last year’s Masters, he tried punching out the back window of his courtesy car with his fist. Twice, but without success either time.
“The first time didn’t go, so I figured I’d try it again,” he said Friday. “Apparently, I’m not strong enough. I guess Mercedes makes a pretty good back window.”
But right on schedule, Koepka said he was starting to feel things were back to normal with his knee by early January.
“I knew I was back,” he said. “I knew everything was right where I needed it to be strength-wise, mobility-wise and being able to do things with the golf swing.”
Since then, he has captured a pair of professional tournaments, including one the week before the 2023 Tournament. And now, he holds the 36-hole lead at the Masters, with every part of his game in seemingly excellent working order, including the swagger.
“I feel really good,” Koepka said after the second round. “I like the way I’m swinging the golf club, putting it, chipping it, driving it. My iron play is solid. It feels really similar (to the way he played pre-injury).”
It has been quite a comeback. And if Koepka continues the play that made him seem so unbeatable in major championships a few years ago, he may well be slipping on a Green Jacket at the end of this Tournament.
*Credit information and Images to www.masters.com