A lot has transpired for Brooks Koepka since his last PGA Tour win one year ago at TPC Scottsdale.
Despite posting a top-10 in three of last year’s majors (MC at Masters), Koepka hasn’t had a top-20 in an official Tour event since. In the past 12 months, he’s mostly made headlines not because of his play — excluding the Ryder Cup — but rather because of a drama with Bryson DeChambeau and several injuries.
But now with both of those distractions in his rearview, Koepka says he’s “pretty damn healthy,” and hopes to spring back to the forefront of the sport. And on Day 1 of the WM Phoenix Open, he took a step in the right direction. Following a T-28 and MC to start off his 2022 campaign, he’s T-3, two shots off Sahith Theegala’s lead after a 5-under 66.
“I think everybody on my team expected this,” Koepka said after Round 1. “But, yeah, I mean, I do like the golf course. I mean, two wins here (2015, 2021) it would be tough to say you don’t like it.”
Full-field scores from WM Phoenix Open
The 31-year-old has openly admitted that he doesn’t get juiced up for non-majors, but the WM Phoenix Open, where he claimed his maiden Tour win, isn’t just any regular event.
“I don’t feel like my mindset is any different here, but I think the amount of people, it’s probably equivalent to a major,” Koepka said Wednesday.
And aside from the fans — who are back in full after a limited crowd last year because of COVID — the reason Koepka is so fond of playing this event is that it suits his driving game well. After making “tweaks” to his driver, he finished his round among the field’s top 10 in strokes gained: tee to green and overall driving distance.
“I think you see a lot of guys that bomb it that play well here, a lot of guys that fade it, Martin Laird is an example, he always seems to play well here,” he said. “Hideki [Matsuyama] plays well here. Guys that you can, if you can carry it 295 [yards], maybe 300 off the tee you can carry a few things that other guys can’t and it can really shorten some holes … You’re not kind of playing the angles, because there seems to be bunkers there you can kind of carry them and miss the bunkers or in the rough.”
Following a turbulent year, the four-time major champion is looking to drive himself back to the top of the world rankings in which he was No. 1 for 47 weeks from 2018-19. Since last year’s Open Championship, he’s fallen 13 spots in the world rankings, to No. 20, much to his disdain.
“That’s embarrassing to be 20th, I feel like,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with injury, man. I’ve been hurt, on the sidelines, not playing, playing through injury, you can’t compete with guys out here. It’s nice to be somewhat healthy and get out here and I mean I’m not too worried about it, it will bounce back up.”
But now, nearly fully healthy once again, Koepka isn’t settling for any consolation prizes.
“No athlete’s ever a hundred percent [healthy]. But like I said, if you’re not healthy, man, it’s not easy,” he said. “But at the same time I mean there’s nobody out here that’s shooting to be No. 2 in the world. So if you are, you’re probably playing the wrong — shouldn’t be playing. So 19 spots to go.”
And the 19-step climb begins by successfully defending his WM Phoenix Open title, or coming close to it — but not waiting another 52 weeks to win again is imperative en route to reaching the peak.