MARANA, Ariz. — This is the Brooks Koepka we were accustomed to when the four-time majors champions was the talk of golf.
“I feel like my game is right where I need to be. I’m very happy.”
“I can’t compete with these guys week in and week out.”
The former was from Thursday, after Koepka’s pro-am and before the start of the LIV Tucson at Gallery Golf Club.
The latter was from the Netflix docuseries “Full Swing,” when a mentally fragile Koepka looked as vulnerable as ever since dominating the PGA Tour.
And then there was this when Koepka was asked how he would respond to those who watched that docuseries and concluded the reason he joined the league financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was knowing his game will never be the same and believing he cannot compete on the PGA Tour.
“I don’t care. They can think whatever they want to think.”
Mentally, the man with laser-like focus and steely nerves who spent 47 weeks at No. 1 appears to be back, having regained his confidence as his health has improved.
Physically, that has yet to play out. In three events this year, Koepka finished tied for 27th in the 48-man field in LIV’s season opener in Mexico three weeks ago. He has a missed cut and a tie for 46th in two Asian Tour events.
The result is Koepka falling out of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking this week (102) for the first time in nine years, partly because LIV is not eligible for ranking points but also indicative of how his game suffered.
For Koepka, that shaken confidence was brought on by a lengthy battle with injuries that at one time had him wondering about his future in this game.
And Koepka decided he would bare those emotions and show that vulnerability and true feeling about his game when the camera rolled.
“Listen, I’ve played into the villain role,” Koepka said Wednesday. “I’m always honest about where I’m at and what I feel is going on. Nothing has changed there. Just honest in how I felt.
“A lot of what was portrayed as me just in golf. They left out a lot of that because of injury. Ask any athlete that’s ever been through injury. You lose a lot of confidence.”
Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of the surgery after he dislocated his kneecap and damaged ligaments. The injury occurred 10 days prior when he slipped while with his family in Florida.
The result was the removal of most of his kneecap.
Koepka attempted to play the Masters less than a month later. He, predictably, missed the cut.
“The world doesn’t know a quarter of what was going on or how bad it truly was,” Koepka said. “Nobody has any idea. The first time that surgery has ever been done.
“The top side chipped and they had to go in the underside. They had to go in four different places. A small little bit of my kneecap is left.”
This was about a year and a half after Koepka underwent a stem cell procedure on his left knee after struggling with a partially torn patella tendon. That injury didn’t allow Koepka to properly shift his weight to his left side, aggravating a hip injury.
One month after the stem cell procedure, Koepka was diagnosed with a torn labrum and reaggravated his left knee when slipping on wet concrete at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea.
As impenetrable as Koepka was during his run of four majors starting at the 2017 U.S. Open, he became that fragile after that last major title at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Koepka spent most of 2021 unable to fully bend his right knee, leading to him squatting down on his left leg with his right knee fully extended to read a putt. And it led to an uneven two years with far fewer highlights — a top 10 in the 2021 U.S. Open, a T-3 in the 2022 WM Phoenix Open, winning his first LIV event in October — than frustrations — withdrawing from the 2021 Tour Championship, missing the cut in two majors and closing 55th in two others last year.
The knee remains swollen but Koepka says it’s the best it’s looked.
“Last year still wasn’t anywhere near,” he said. “Right now I’m exactly where I want to be. I feel as good as I did before. I’m able to do things that I was doing in 2019.
“Strength is starting to get back where it needs to be. I don’t wake up every day feeling it.”
The attitude is back. Will the game follow?