There are countless differences between Brooks Koepka and me, or Brooks Koepka and you, or Brooks Koepka and 90 percent of his opponents on the PGA Tour, but the biggest chasm comes in one crucial area: doubt.
Doubt is as much a part of golf as a fairway or a flagstick. It’s a better defense against low scores than long rough or sloping greens. And here’s the real trick: Just because you play a bunch of golf doesn’t mean the doubt goes away; sometimes its the opposite. But to hear Koepka — who hasn’t played in two months, missed a major championship and looked hobbled by injury the last time we saw him — describe it, doubt’s not a factor. Not even after his latest setbacks.
Koepka spoke to the media ahead of this week’s CJ Cup, taking place this year at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. He said he feels “a million times better” than he did for much of 2020 up to this point.
“I didn’t know how bad I felt until I actually feel good,” he said. “It’s nice to be back.”
We’ll get a better sense of Koepka’s play once balls are in the air on Thursday, but his press conference game was in midseason form. Giving nothing. Showing zero doubt.
What did he miss about being on Tour? Nada, Koepka said, except competing.
“I haven’t watched any golf, I didn’t see anything,” he said. “So I know what happened, but it’s just nice to get back to what I’m supposed to do, my job. I’ve missed it.”
Asked about Bryson DeChambeau, a rival of sorts, Koepka was complimentary without getting reverential. “Yeah, I didn’t watch a shot of it, didn’t see anything,” he said. “He’s pushing it to that next level, finding the boundaries of how far he can actually hit it and play with it and he’s done a good job of that. He’s hitting it a mile.” In other words, Koepka was the same blunt, brash, too-cool-for-school guy he’s been for the last three or so years on Tour.
But Koepka was even more interesting talking about his own injuries. Remember, Koepka’s run of poor health actually began at this very event last fall, when he slipped on wet concrete and injured his knee. He described that tear as being located “in the middle of the patellar tendon,” which sounds unpleasant. He missed a couple months of play.
When Koepka came back, he was still injured. After the PGA Tour’s coronavirus layoff, he was back on the course again, but felt even worse.
“Obviously Memorial was kind of its peak of when it was its worst, and then at the PGA it didn’t feel great,” Koepka said. “Obviously just progressively kept getting worse.”
It’s an interesting tic that Koepka has, the use of “obviously” when he’s talking about things that aren’t actually obvious at all. His timeline and his health and his play have all been question marks for a full calendar year. The pain spread to his hip — a torn labrum, he said — but he kept playing all the way through the Wyndham before ultimately ending his season with a pre-tournament WD the week of the Northern Trust at TPC Boston. But now, he said, he’s back. He’s clear on that point.
“Everything feels good. We’re doing all of the strengthening in all of the right places. It’s the best I’ve truly felt in so long, I didn’t realize last year how limited I was from swinging — from not being able to get from my right side to my left side because of it. I really do feel great right now.”
Back to that doubt thing, then: It’s hard for any athlete not to internalize poor play, even if it’s as the result of an injury, but Koepka seems determined to do just that. Asked how much the injury led to his poor play, Koepka made his feelings known.
“It’s the whole reason I played like crap.” he said. The whole reason! Not partially to blame — completely and entirely. That’s the sort of certainty that could knock a few shots off anyone’s game.
So now, upon his return, what would make for a successful week?
“Winning,” Koepka said, borrowing from a succinct passage in the Book of Tiger. “I know physically I’ll be able to play four rounds, walk four rounds and have no issue with it. From there, it’s just go out and win.”
No doubt about it.