LA QUINTA, Calif. – The transformative properties of 2020 covered every corner of everyday life. Just consider Brooks Koepka’s last 12 months.
A year ago this week Koepka was the No. 1 player in the world, hadn’t finished outside the top five in five consecutive major starts and was the game’s most intimidating figure coming down the 18th fairway with a lead.
He tied for 34th that week in Abu Dhabi and wouldn’t crack the top 10 for six months. There are countless ways to quantify how badly things went for Koepka in 2020, but the famously no-nonsense player only pays attention to a single statistic.
“I just care about wins, that's the only thing that matters,” he said Tuesday at The American Express.
That last 'W' for Koepka was a year and a half ago in Memphis, an unacceptable drought for a player who before he was slowed by injury was threatening to redefine the game with his play in major championships.
Those injuries – first his left knee, then his left hip – resulted in the worst year of his professional life. That’s the bad news. How he unpacks all that mediocracy is exceedingly simple, but then what else would you expect?
On Tuesday at PGA West, Koepka dismissed 2020 with a wave his hand. “Last year doesn't even register in my head,” he said.
Whatever areas of Koepka’s game suffered last year, the simple tonic is renewed health, which he’s finally achieved thanks to months of rehab and a few platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatments, the most recent coming two weeks ago.
“They did an ultrasound on it, they said there's barely any tear on it, so there's a lot of progress, came a long way, a lot of hard work, but just excited where it's probably the best I felt maybe since 2018,” he said.
The dominoes began to fall in Koepka’s favor following his tie for seventh at last fall’s Masters. As his knee and his hip began to feel better he was able to spend more time working with swing coach Claude Harmon III. After the New Year he flew to California to work with his trainer and he arrives in Palm Springs with a level of confidence that had been missing from his game for some time.
Statistically Koepka needs to shore up his short game, specifically around the greens where he was 144th out of 193 players in strokes gained: putting last season, but for a player whose greatest attribute is how simple he keeps things, everything about his game begins and ends with his health.
“I feel good and I'm starting to see better results in practicing, can practice longer, can practice a little bit harder, everything's starting to come around back to where it's what I'm used to,” he said.
The American Express: Full-field tee times | Full coverage
Koepka isn’t really one for second-guessing, but on Tuesday he did offer a glimpse into how bad things were last September when he went for his first round of PRP therapy in San Diego.
“They looked at the MRI from the one I took at Memorial [in July] and they were surprised even at how much the tear had gotten bigger. They were surprised and where like, man, if it was a little more recent we might contemplate surgery,” said Koepka, who traditionally starts his year playing events on the European Tour’s Middle East swing but altered his schedule this year with an eye toward June’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Koepka also isn’t one to thumb goals into his cell phone each season, and if he were it would be a short list – win. After the most difficult of chapters in his career, he has no plans to overanalyze what went wrong in ’20 and how he can change directions this season. The uncluttered mind doesn’t need an extended explanation.
“Everything's healed up, it's good. I'm so much stronger in my legs. My knee I'm not in pain two months now on anything, in the gym, walking around, waking up in the morning, it doesn't ache,” he said. “It's a good feeling.”
When Koepka is healthy, he’s among the game’s most dominant and confident players. His renewed health has delivered that signature confidence and a chance to do what we all want, put 2020 in the rearview mirror.