ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka figured he’d get ahead of the hosts on a recent podcast so he just said what he figured they were thinking.
“I choked,” the Jupiter resident said about losing a four-shot lead with 30 holes to play at the Masters.
He was asked this week whether he truly believes that’s the best way to characterize his disappointing Sunday at Augusta.
“Theoretically, yes, it is,” he said. “It is choking, right? If you have a lead and cough it up, that’s choking.”
Then how did Koepka characterize his 2-over 72 Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Championship?
“That was the worst I hit it in a really long time,” said Koepka, who headed to the range at Oak Hill Country Club after hitting just six greens and seven fairways.
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If Koepka truly does have his majors mojo back, as many believe, then he has some work to do during Friday’s second round.
Koepka certainly is not out of it after 18 holes, especially on a course that many compared to among the toughest for a PGA Championship. Red numbers were hard to come by Thursday.
“Just going to work on it, figure it out. I doubt it’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said about another subpar performance. “Just go figure it out and see where it puts me.”
That’s the Koepka we remember from those days before his knee injury, the one full of confidence who has no doubt he can recover from one bad day or dominate when the stakes are the highest, as he did for a three-year stretch in which he won four majors.
Restless night after Masters loss for Koepka
Which is why that performance on the final day at the Masters resulted in a restless night and a few anxious days. Koepka said he didn’t sleep at all that Sunday night trying to figure out what went wrong and then thought more about what happened over the next few days.
“From there, just never let it happen again,” he said. “That’s the whole goal, right? You’re not trying to dwell on it. Yeah, it sucks to finish second, but at the same time, as long as you learn from it, you’ll be fine.”
Following the Masters, Koepka returned to his day job as a member of LIV Golf. He played just one tournament between the season’s first two majors, finishing fifth in LIV’s event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
But the majors are the only events where Koepka truly is judged nowadays and he was hoping to carry the momentum of a runner-up finish at Augusta into the PGA Championship.
Every LIV golfer who plays in a major has something to prove, even Koepka, despite his four major titles.
Cold start to Thursday’s first round for everyone
Thursday’s first round was delayed close to two hours with temperatures dipping into the high 20s overnight in the Rochester area and the course covered in frost as the sun was rising. When Koepka’s group (he played with Scottie Scheffler and Gary Woodland) teed off, the temperature was nearing 40 degrees.
And as bad as Koepka said he struck the ball, he was even par after his front nine with the help of chipping in from 22 feet on No. 11. A little more luck with the putter and that score could have been better.
But the back nine was all about scrambling to make sure he did not fall further down the leaderboard.
“Missed a couple of putts early but scrambled really well late,” he said. “Probably could have shot even. I just didn’t have it.”
Koepka answered a lot of questions at the Masters … about his health, his confidence and his majors’ mindset. And that performance has many believing for the first time in two years we might see the Koepka who, for a three-year stretch, was the most feared golfer in the world on the biggest stage.
“I feel great. My body feels good. Swinging it the way I want to. Moving the way I want to,” he said entering the week and before Thursday’s hiccup.
“Then from there, it’s just about game-planning and going out and executing. I feel like I’ve done a good job of that this offseason being able to kind of do everything I need to do in the gym to get my knee more flexible, stronger.”
On Wednesday, he was asked what it will take to be in contention on Sunday.
“Discipline,” he said. “It’s a grind. A major week is always tough. It’s always going to be a tough golf course. You’ve got to plot your way around, understand where to miss it, where not to miss it. It just comes down to discipline.”
And if you get off to a rough start, getting back on track in Round 2.