News & Opinion

Brooks Koepka returns to PGA Tour healthy yet hungry

Brooks Koepka and caddie Ricky Elliott at 2020 PGA Championship
Brooks Koepka, with caddie Ricky Elliott, feels healthy and ready to win again on the PGA Tour in 2021.

American will make his debut in The American Express with an eye on next week at Torrey Pines and the U.S. Open at San Diego muni

As a lifelong Floridian, Brooks Koepka typically doesn’t place as high of a priority on the PGA Tour’s early-season West Coast Swing. In seven previous seasons, he has made a total of only eight starts in the West, often opting for big-money guarantees in the Middle East on the European Tour.

This year will be different.

Koepka will make his 2021 debut this week at $6.7 million The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., his first appearance at the event formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic (tee times). Next week, he will trek 2½ hours west to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines with an eye on the future. The famed municipal complex’s South Course will be the site of this year’s U.S. Open.

“I thought it was important to play Torrey Pines and just see the golf course one more time before we go play it in the summer,” Koepka said. “I like to play one round or at least one tournament before I get things started, and I feel like playing this week was beneficial, just to really get the game in flow.”

Koepka, 30, won the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Open titles during a phenomenal run of four victories in eight major-championship appearances. He begins the new year after a 2020 in which he started ranked No. 1 in the world and finished 12th. His winless campaign was marred by mixed results and a couple of months off to deal with a partially torn tendon in his troublesome left knee.

“I'm healthy now, so I'm not worried about it,” he said in dismissing any concerns about the knee. “There's a lot of progress, came a long way, a lot of hard work, but just excited where it's probably the best I felt maybe since 2018.

“Everything's healed up; it's good. I'm so much stronger in my legs. I'm not in pain two months now on anything; in the gym, walking around, waking up in the morning, it doesn't ache. So, it's a good feeling.”

Koepka can draw strength from two solid results in the fall: T-5 at the Houston Open and T-7 at the Masters. But Koepka doesn’t show up for top-10s.

“I just care about wins,” said Koepka, a seven-time champion on the PGA Tour who also has won on three other major professional tours: European, Challenge and Japan. “That's the only thing that matters.

“Any time you win, you're going to be confident; you feel confident. I mean, I do feel confident,” Koepka said. “My whole season last year was, for the last year and a half, it's been an injury. I couldn't shake it, tried to play, adjust my schedule, tried to play through it and injuries attract other injuries, and that kind of sums up the season.”

Koepka will step onto PGA West – the Nicklaus and Stadium courses will be used for the first two rounds before the low 65 and ties play the weekend at Stadium – on Thursday eager to win for the first time since July 28, 2019, at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

“I don't really put too much emphasis on last year,” he said. “My confidence is still high. I've seen so much better results, so much better in my practice sessions now that I'm healthy.”

Koepka would define a successful season simply: “a couple wins and a couple majors.”

And it all could begin in the most unlikely of places for a Florida guy: the California desert.

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