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Return to PGA Tour will be shear relief for Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka 2020 Saudi International
Brooks Koepka has struggled through injury and on-course struggles in the 2019-20 season, and his off-course form has been clipped in a few places, too.

Amid a season of missed cuts and a mis-cut, the butchered but unbroken 4-time major champion seeks a new chance to grow

The difference between a bad haircut and a good one, they say, is about two weeks. Except for Brooks Koepka, who has needed way more than 14 days to recover from the sheep shearing that his girlfriend, Jena Sims, laid on him three weeks ago during this coronavirus stay-at-home.

But a butchered bowl hairdo is the least of his worries as Koepka prepares for the PGA Tour’s return from what will have been a coronavirus-mandated three-month suspension when play resumes in two weeks at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

Hair grows back, at least for most people. But a golf game is harder to come by, especially one that’s good enough to beat the best players in the world. Koepka, a four-time major champion, is No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking and plans to play the first three events on the Tour’s revised schedule: the Schwab on June 11-14, RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on June 18-21, and the Travelers Championship on June 25-28 in Connecticut.

Koepka might be the biggest beneficiary of what will have been a 12-week hiatus for the Tour, which suspended the season March 12 after the first round of the Players Championship. His 2019-20 PGA Tour season has been dismal: five starts, two missed cuts, a WD, a T-43 and a T-47, the latter at Bay Hill, which included a third-round 81. He made two starts on the European Tour early this year, finishing T-34 and T-17.

The withdrawal came in October at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where he slipped on wet concrete and aggravated his injured left knee, a torn patella tendon, which he revealed he was suffering through since last March. He had a stem-cell treatment in September after the Tour Championship and declared himself ready. That is, until Korea.

He called the pain “excruciating,” which prompted him not to play the Presidents Cup in Australia in December. So, since October, Koepka has been on the shelf for about six months total. All of which makes the four-time major champion eager, to say the least, to get back to competition.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Koepka turned 30 (May 3), abstained from alcohol for 30 days – which begs more questions than answers – donated $100,000 to his foundation for COVID-19 relief in Palm Beach and Martin counties in his native southeast Florida, where he still lives and has been rather chatty in the media. And he didn’t have weights with which to work out at home, so he had to go buy some. Clearly, Koepka is a man in need of something to do.

“It’s exciting to have something to look forward to,” Koepka told Dan Patrick on his radio show about the return to the PGA Tour in the second week in June. “That’s what was killing everybody, the unknown.”

And, he has been vocal about the Ryder Cup, which is scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. Just as the first four scheduled events on the PGA Tour are to be played without fans, there have been serious discussions about a fan-less Ryder Cup, as well.

“As an athlete, no one wants to compete without fans,” he told Patrick. “It’s what creates the energy.”

Koepka reiterated the sentiment to Golf Channel. “I personally don’t want to play [in the Ryder Cup] if there’s no fans. I don’t see a point in playing it.

“I get representing your country is an honor and it’s something that’s so much fun,” Koepka said, “but at the same time, the fans make that event. That’s what we get nervous on the first tee. You hear the chants. You hear everything that’s going on – the U-S-A [chant], all that stuff. That’s what makes it fun.

“It’s like us going to play a match here at Floridian [his home course], is essentially what it’s going to feel like.”

Koepka will get the opportunity for some experience without people outside the ropes when he tees it up in the first three events. The first two venues aren’t Koepka’s kind of ballpark. Neither Colonial nor Harbour Town particularly suits bombers, of which Koepka is one of the biggest.

They are narrow and relatively short, given today’s Tour. Koepka likes hitting drivers, so it will be interesting to see how much restraint he will or won’t muster to make his way around two of the storied tracks in professional golf.

Whether he hits irons off some tees on Thursdays and Fridays might go a long way toward determining whether he has a chance to win on either Sunday. However, even the supremely confident Koepka might not have winning on his mind right out of the gate.

It will be difficult enough for him to find enough game after three months to get back in the flow of competitive golf. Of course, Koepka has nothing to prove at this point by playing Colonial and Hilton Head, unless it’s to himself.

Or maybe he just needed to get out of the house for a couple of weeks.

And while he’s out, perhaps he can get a proper haircut. If enough of his hair has grown out by then.

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