Brooks Koepka 2.0: The Next Chapter

2023 PGA Championship - Final Round
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For Claude Harmon III, the biggest surprise was receiving a call from Brooks Koepka in July 2022, asking for help with his swing again. After more than two years without speaking, Harmon watched him hit balls for 15 minutes at LIV Bedminster in New Jersey, but it was what Koepka said that left a lasting impression.“I still feel like I can win majors, I still feel like I can be one of, if not the, best player in the world,” Koepka said. “You know, just gotta get my golf swing doing what I want it to do and just gotta get healthy again.”

[Editor's Note: This article was written by GolfWeek and will be featured in the official 2024 PGA Championship program]

Less than a year later, Koepka completed a remarkable return to glory, shooting 3-under 67 at Oak Hill in the final round to win the 105th PGA Championship by two strokes over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler. In doing so, Koepka became the 20th player to win at least five majors, and joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win the Wanamaker Trophy three times in the stroke-play era.

“This is probably the sweetest one of them all because all the hard work that went into this one, this one is definitely special,” Koepka said after the victory. “This one is probably it for me.”

The 34-year-old Koepka was considered washed up, done in by injuries that included a torn patella tendon in August 2019, a hip injury in 2020 and a potentially career-ending injury to his kneecap and patella tendon in March 2021. His short-game coach, Pete Cowen, said Koepka couldn’t compress on his left side, resulting in a two-way miss.

“It was almost game over,” Harmon said.

“No one knows,” Koepka said. “There were a lot of times where I just couldn’t even bend my knee.”

PGA Championship - Final Round

But he gave the world a window into the self-doubt this supposedly ruthless, emotionless alpha male was suffering from when he opened up like never before during interviews for “Full Swing,” the golf docuseries on Netflix. He admitted he had lost confidence and that it was a tough thing to regain.

“My whole career has gone straight up and then suddenly I’m kind of on, I don’t want to say the other side of it, but it’s like, ‘OK, well, we’re going down now.’ This is the worst I’ve ever struggled my whole life. I have to figure out how to get out of this thing before it gets too late,” Koepka said during the series.

Perhaps the best advice came from his mom, Denise Jakows, who told him,

Sometimes you just have to put your big boy pants on and get back out there, right?
Denise Jakows

“That’s what all the great ones do, right?” Koepka said. “Back’s against the wall, they get it done.”

Koepka’s wife, Jena Sims, recalled how in the early years of their relationship, Koepka powered through any struggles. But, she said, “Now, like in the back of his head, he’s hearing these voices of like, ‘You can’t do this. You won’t do this.’ I do worry about the future.”

What Koepka needed most was to regain his fitness, and one of the positives of joining LIV Golf in June 2022 was it allowed him to play less and enjoy a four-month off-season that let him rest and rehabilitate. He showed signs that his game was resurfacing, winning twice on LIV Golf before the 2023 Masters, where he held the 54-hole lead but, in his words, “choked,” shooting 74 and tying for second as Jon Rahm slipped into the Green Jacket.

Harmon told him that this was simply the beginning of Brooks 2.0. “If this is the second phase of your career, it’s a helluva start,” Harmon said.

But Koepka took the defeat hard and said he didn’t sleep the night after the Masters. After much soul-searching, he came to the conclusion that the only thing that truly matters when you get knocked down is what happens next.

“Thought about it for a few days after and really honed in on what I was doing and what went wrong,” Koepka said ahead of last year’s PGA Championship. “From there just never let it happen again. That’s the whole goal, right?”

Koepka held a one-stroke lead heading into the final round at Oak Hill after shooting 72-66-66. He raced out of the gate, making three consecutive birdies from inside 10 feet starting at the second hole to build a four-stroke lead. He dropped shots at Nos. 6, where he drove in the water, and No. 7. Hovland remained hot on his heels until late in the championship.

But there would be no letup on the second nine. Koepka stuck his approach at No. 10 to 8 feet and rolled in the putt. After a bogey at 11, he knocked his second shot from the rough to 11 feet at the next hole and poured in the birdie putt. After Hovland made birdie at No. 13, Koepka sank a delicate 10-foot downhiller for par to protect a one-stroke lead.

“When he is holing putts like he is at the moment, he is pretty dangerous,” Cameron Smith, the 2022 British Open champion and a fellow LIV Golf member, said.

Koepka kept the gas down, nearly driving the 14th green to set up another birdie. Hovland finally blinked at 16, driving into a fairway bunker and embedding his second shot into the lip of the bunker en route to a double bogey. Koepka smelled blood and stuck his approach to 5 feet, making birdie to take a commanding four-stroke lead. Bogey-par closed it out for Koepka, who signed for a 72-hole total of 9-under 271.

He’ll win a lot more, he’ll want to win all four majors a couple of times
Pete Cowen

Australians Smith and Cam Davis, Austria’s Sepp Straka and American Kurt Kitayama tied with Scheffler for the low round of the tournament with 65s. Michael Block, the 46-year-old PGA of America Golf Professional from Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, capped off his Cinderella story by making a hole-in-one at the 15th hole and shooting 1-over 71. He finished as the low PGA Club Professional and his T-15 earned an exemption to this year’s PGA Championship. Among the players he beat were reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm, who entered the week as world No. 1 but finished T-50.

“It’s golf,” Rahm said, “when you think, oh, I got this, it kicks you in the mouth, and you have to start over again. It happens to everybody.”

Scheffler’s strong finish vaulted him back to No. 1 in the world ahead of Rahm, but that was little consolation to him.

“Right now, I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to get the tournament done, but I’m proud of how I fought, I’m proud of how I played the back nine today to give myself a chance,” Scheffler said.

2023 PGA Championship - Final Round

With his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time, Koepka reflected on how failure at the Masters lead to his validating win at Oak Hill.

“I definitely wouldn’t have, I don’t think, won today if that didn’t happen, right?” he said, but as for what specifically he learned from the defeat, he’s not telling. “Definitely take it and keep using it going forward for each event, each major, any time I’m in contention, but I’m not going to share. I can’t give away all the secrets.”

Whatever promise to himself he kept in the final round, Koepka’s ball-striking clinic over the final 18 belied his frustrating warmup. Heading from the practice tee to the putting green on Sunday before his tee time, Koepka complained to Cowen, who said, “Your 70 percent of swinging (lousy) will still win.”

Cowen said he never doubted that Koepka would win another major because “he’s a man who’s comfortable in uncomfortable moments.” He also said Koepka doesn’t necessarily love the game, but he loves winning and wants to be remembered as an all-time great.

“He’ll win a lot more, he’ll want to win all four majors a couple of times,” Cowen said.

For Koepka, who now has two U.S. Opens and three PGA victories, any crisis of confidence seems a distant memory. After Oak Hill, he finished in the top 20 at the U.S. Open and made the cut at the Open Championship. He briefly appeared in the top dozen in the Official World Golf Ranking, although he has since slipped because his LIV Golf schedule—which featured another win last October— doesn’t add points.

But Koepka 2.0 may just be getting started. Heading to Valhalla, Harmon said Koepka is as well-prepared as ever for a second serious run. In his only previous start at the Louisville course, at the 2014 PGA, Koepka finished with rounds of 66 and 67 to place 15th.

“He likes climbing Mount Everest,” Harmon said. “He likes being in the death zone. Everybody says they like being up there. But you got to step over dead bodies to get to the top and then you got to step over dead bodies to get back down.”