A year ago, Brooks Koepka was at the lowest point of his career. Now the four-time major champion is leading the Masters heading into the weekend
The pain and frustration were there for the entire world to see.
Brooks Koepka, a golfer who had reached the highest pinnacles of the sport, arrived at the Masters last year mired in the lowest ebbs of despair. He was nagged by injuries to his knees and hip. Wins, which once came naturally to him, had dried up.
It was all captured by Netflix in the series “Full Swing,” where Koepka’s struggles on the eve of the 2022 Masters served as the basis for an entire episode. How his play on the course began following him and fiancee Jena Sims back home. “Jena would be talking to me and I would be thinking about my golf swing,” Koepka said on the show, his mind everywhere but in the moment.
Koepka shot 75-75 at Augusta National last year and missed the cut by two shots. He had hit rock bottom. “I’m going to be honest with you. I can’t compete with these guys week in and week out,” he said back then. “I have to figure out how to get the f***k out of this thing before it’s too late.”
A year later, everything changed for Koepka. He has a new tour after signing with LIV Golf last June. He’s finally fully healthy. And he’ll not only be playing the weekend at Augusta National, he’ll do it from atop the leaderboard after a five-under 67 on Friday left him four shots clear of the rest of the field at 12-under for the tournament after 36 holes.
Koepka admitted after the round that he might not have left for LIV if he had been healthy last year. But the move to the controversial Saudi-backed league has been nothing but beneficial to him. The non-major events never mattered to him anyway. He can now play a reduced schedule, in 54-hole tournaments, and concentrate on the four biggest events on the golfing calendar, all while making a lot more money. He’s already won two events on the new tour, including last week in Orlando.
Koepka’s play through two rounds resembles the player who dominated the sport for the better part of three years and quickly spun off four major championships. He birdied every par-five during his second round, including an eagle from 13 feet on the eighth hole. He missed only one fairway on Friday and hit 14 of 18 greens. He’s leading the field among players in the early wave in Strokes Gained: Approach. Koepka has made only one bogey so far on a course that brought him to his knees a year ago.
Masters title this week would separate Brooks Koepka from his peers
The Netflix documentary showed one other aspect of Koepka’s life: how much winning this tournament means to him. He has his U.S. Open and PGA Championship trophies on a shelf in his living room, with a big empty space right in the middle reserved for the Masters trophy. A win on the weekend would give him five majors, moving him past Rory McIlroy for most among the current generation. Only Tiger and Phil have won more over the last 30 years.
Netflix didn’t capture everything that happened to Koepka a year ago. But it did show how far he had fallen. These last two days have shown just how much the past 12 months have changed everything for Koepka.
“A lot of it, it’s all injury based. Any athlete, anybody that’s going through something where you can’t even bend your knee…They told me getting out of surgery that it was going to be pretty much a year and a half anyways, and then you just create bad habits, and it’s just frustration,” he said earlier this week. “You feel like you’re never going to be healthy. So yeah, it was definitely frustrating. But once you feel good, everything changes.”
The old Koepka has returned to Augusta National. The one with the blank stare and broken spirit that the world watched on television is gone. Koepka is back right where he belongs.