Koepka arrives with intention to play in Masters

  • Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
  • Covered golf for more than 20 years
  • Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka arrived at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon to practice and play a few holes. And he said he intends to compete when the Masters begins on Thursday.

“If I knew I was going to finish second, I wouldn’t have shown up,” Koepka said after playing a four-hole loop of holes: Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9.

Koepka, 30, had surgery on his right knee on March 16 to deal with a kneecap dislocation and ligament damage. The injury occurred, he said, while with family in Florida approximately 10 days earlier. Koepka said he slipped and the injury required his kneecap being put back into place.

“Putting it back into place really hurt,” he said. “Dislocated the kneecap. I went down and just straightened it and popped it back in.

“Seven days out of surgery, I was hitting balls. I don’t think anybody expected this. I didn’t know,” he said. “The goal was to play Augusta and so we were going to see if we could play. … We were hopeful we were going to be here. A couple of bad days or anything like that it could set you back quite a while.

“It’s been seven-plus hours every day in rehab. Between getting my neck straightened away [a previous issue] and the knee. … I’m going to be living on the [rehab] table, making sure I can get comfortable and so it feels good.”

The four-time major champion, who is ranked 12th in the world, finished tied for second in his last event at the WGC-Workday Championship on Feb. 28. He missed scheduled starts at the Players Championship and Honda Classic after the injury occurred the weekend of March 7. Koepka had the surgery in California and his caddie, Rickie Elliott, said he did not do much golf-wise since, aside from some practice at Riviera Country Club.

“I walked the back nine a few times in the last week and a half,” said Koepka, who said he expects to play nine holes each of the next three days leading up to the tournament. “I’ve walked enough.”

He hit about 70 balls during his practice session, went to the putting green for 10 minutes, then went to register for the tournament. He walked slowly and carefully up and down a set of stairs before heading to the first tee with Viktor Hovland. Elliott said he was going to likely play four holes “and see how it goes.”

After a difficult 2020 that saw Koepka slowed by problems with his left knee and hip — keeping him out of the U.S. Open and from qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs — things had turned around this year.

He won the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Feb. 7, his eighth PGA Tour victory and first since the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Later that year is when issues with his left knee surfaced.

He had a stem cell treatment soon after the Tour Championship, then returned in the fall only to reinjure the knee at a tournament in South Korea. That kept him from playing in the Presidents Cup, and in early 2020 he fell from the No. 1 spot in the Official World Ranking.

“It’s frustrating,” he admitted. “Tough to put into words. I’ve just had to take it one day at a time and see how it goes. There’s been a lot of downs.”

Koepka tied for seventh at the Masters in November and tied for second in 2019, a stroke behind Tiger Woods.

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