Brooks Koepka reveals how he overcame injury and failure to join an elite group of Major winners.
Out of sight but never out of mind, Brooks Koepka has been showing glimpses of getting back to his best for a while now.
A win at LIV Golf Orlando was the precursor to a near miss at the Masters, where he led after 54 holes before falling back into a tie for second after a three-over-par 75 on Sunday.
By his own estimation, he ‘choked’ at Augusta National and has spent the last few weeks stewing over a missed opportunity. That he wasn’t even part of the conversation after the first round of the PGA Championship says a lot about his powers of recovery.
For the rest of the week, he looked like the alpha male of old at Oak Hill. Untroubled and seemingly unstoppable. His fifth Major victory marks him out as one of the greats and, as Iona Stephen discusses in her latest column, has to play in the Ryder Cup, but the hidden physical and emotional torment he’s suffered makes his return to the top even more remarkable.
This is the real Brooks Koepka in its rawest form and there’s a lot to unpack.
You have always said golf is about Major championships. What does it mean to win your fifth and third PGA Championships?
It’s incredible. Someone said that there are maybe only 20 guys on five, so that’s pretty special. Hopefully, I can just keep adding to it. It would be pretty cool.
Given all you went through and the rehab and the doubts, is this as sweet as any?
Yeah, this is probably the sweetest one of them all because all the hard work that went into this one, this one is definitely special. This one is probably it for me.
What has it taken to get back?
A lot of pain, physical pain. But I’m happy to be here. I’ve worked my butt off. Rick has worked his butt off. He has been there for me. He was there and basically babysat me during the whole surgery process and everything, so he is the man.
You looked a little emotional walking from the 18th green to the scoring tent. Was that relief or a sudden realization of what you had accomplished?
It was definitely what I accomplished. Pardon my language, but it’s all the f****** s*** I had to go through. No one knows, I think, all the pain. There were a lot of times where I just couldn’t even bend my knee. Yeah, it felt good. It felt really good.
You were pretty much unflappable. Can you explain the mindset that you had?
Maybe the opposite of what I did at Augusta. I learned a lot from Augusta, just the way I thought, the way I approached it. I made sure if Augusta doesn’t happen, maybe I’ll get this one. I’m very pleased with the learning process that I’ve gone on in the last, I guess, month.
Without prying, how big was it for you to use something that some might consider a failure, and to turn it into a positive?
I’ve always learned more from the four times I finished second than the five times I’ve won now. I think failure is how you learn. You get better from it. You realize what mistakes you’ve made. Each time I’ve kind of made an adjustment. It’s more mentality than it is anything. It’s not really golf swing or anything like that.
You’re going to play how you play, but mentally you can kind of figure things out, and I’m always trying to get better. Just trying to find that different little edge just to poke and try inside my head. Really, I think the big key is just being open and honest with yourself, and if you can do that, you’ll be miles ahead of everybody else.
A lot of people saw a different side to Brooks Koepka in the Netflix show. After your surgery, how much were you questioning yourself physically and whether you could get back to being the same player?
It’s tough, like, you can’t fathom how difficult it is just to get going. I mean, it was a lot worse than I let on to everybody. The swelling didn’t go down until maybe a couple months ago. It’s been a long road. I know I seem like this big, bad, tough guy on the golf course that doesn’t smile, but if you catch me off the golf course, I’ll let you know what’s going on. Like, I’m happy they got that side, right? That’s truly me.
Was there a moment when you thought you might not win another major again?
Oh, for sure. Yeah, a couple years ago. I was just lost. I didn’t know where any golf swing was; I didn’t know physically if I was capable of getting back to where I was.
Just to be clear, did you ever consider retirement?
I don’t know if I considered retiring, but I knew if I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play, then I was definitely going to give it up. I mean, the thought definitely kind of crossed my mind.
When you experience highs like this, do you ever reflect on the early years, when you were traveling and competing in Asia and Europe, and how tough the journey has been?
It’s so cool to look back at where I’ve come from. I remember back to the Challenge Tour days, going to Kenya, Kazakhstan, and all those cool places and getting to see the world. To be out here now and win five major championships is pretty incredible.
Bryson DeChambeau spoke about how your victory was an important moment for LIV Golf. Do you feel a sense of pride, in becoming the first LIV representative to win a Major?
Yeah, I think so. Look, I think I was the first guy to win two LIV events. To win a Major is always a big deal, no matter where you’re playing. All it does, I guess, is validates it for myself. I guess maybe if anybody doubted it from Augusta or whatever, I’m back. I’m here.
How do you carry this momentum into what could be a pretty historic year for you?
Keep doing what I’m doing. It’s working so far. I’m back to having a chance pretty much every time I tee it up, so I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing.
About the author
Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.
Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.
Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.