PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Brooks Koepka shot a 2-under 70 in the opening round of The Players Championship despite a near-accident on the driving range that nearly ended his tournament before it began.
Koepka was hitting balls on the back of the TPC Sawgrass driving range Wednesday, hitting “punch stinger 3-irons” in preparation for the shot he would face on the 18th tee. But just as the reigning U.S. Open champ took the club back, someone drove a golf cart directly across his path, causing Koepka to stop his swing just before impact.
“This guy drove a cart across, and I mean I unloaded everything,” Koepka said. “There were a bunch of guys that were around that were like, ‘Holy s---. Can’t believe you actually stopped that.’ I watched the club go this way and go back. I think it was the first time my strength actually backfired, being strong enough to actually stop it.”
Koepka estimated that the cart drove only 15 yards in front of him.
“He would have been dead,” he said. “It was perfect timing.”
Koepka missed nearly four months of action this spring, including the Masters, because of a partial tear to the ECU tendon in his left wrist. The recoil caused some familiar pain in the same wrist, and Koepka underwent x-rays and an MRI Wednesday with his playing chances still very much in doubt.
Both tests came back fine, and Koepka was able to turn in a bogey-free card with birdies on Nos. 12 and 16. But it was hardly a pain-free trip around the Stadium Course, as his 8:05 a.m. tee time left little time to loosen up his re-injured wrist.
“The whole range session before was pretty pathetic. We started with just teeing up little sand irons, just hitting those maybe 20 yards. Everything was off a tee for maybe five minutes,” he said. “It was the smallest divot pattern I’ve ever had. I was afraid to actually go back into the ground.”
Koepka’s trainer had an ice bag ready to go as soon as he emerged from scoring, and he planned extensive rest and rehab in the 24 hours before he tees it up again in the second round. While the afflicted area is familiar, Koepka explained that the pain is actually in a different area from his original ailment.
“The ECU’s a little sore. Kind of in the same spot, but it actually hurts in a little different spot,” he said. “It’s kind of more in the middle of the wrist. It’s bone-on-bone right now.”
Koepka considered withdrawing before play began, but felt he “could win the golf tournament” despite the injury so he opted to give it a go in a marquee group alongside Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. As for the cart driver whose actions caused the injury aggravation, Koepka believes he left the scene blissfully unaware of what had happened.
“He just kept going. I don’t think he had any idea,” Koepka said. “I don’t think he had any idea what the hell he was doing, to be honest with you. He just kept driving across.”