Augusta, Ga. — Brooks Koepka declined to share the gruesome details of the injury. But after blasting a 7-under 65 to level with Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland for a first-round lead at the Masters, he was committed.
The now LIV Golf Tour member and four-time Major winner explained how he slipped at home, dislocated his knee and shattered trying to reinsert it, only to tear one of the ligaments around his patella.
“My leg was sideways and outside. My foot was turned outside,” Koepka said. “And when I snapped it back into place because the kneecap was already broken, it went in pretty well. It was much easier.”
In a revealing post-round interview, Koepka detailed the journey back from the injury that once prevented him from bending his knee and caused him to miss the incision at the 2021 Masters following his surgery.
Before the injury and before joining LIV last year, Koepka was not only considered one of the best players in the world, but also a player who excelled almost exclusively at majors. He built a reputation for being casual at all events other than majors and seemed to benefit from an attitude of apathy towards golf. The Netflix episode of “Full Swing” that Koepka starred in showed another side of the former top player in the world – he cared about golf and about winning. A lot.
“I think it was good. People probably don’t think I’m as open as I really am,” Koepka said. “I’m going to tell you exactly how I’m feeling at the time, how I’m feeling right now. I’m also quite vulnerable off the golf course. I’ve always said what you see on the Gulf of course isn’t what you get behind closed doors.”
Brooks Koepka shot a 7-under 65 to level the first-round lead. Getty Images
On Thursday, it looked like we’d seen both sides of Koepka: the dominant golf team, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 greens and finished with three birdies in his last four holes, and the slightly more vulnerable and open personal side.
“I wish I’d celebrated the little milestones along the way instead of thinking I could just do it,” Koepka said of his injury. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever worked just trying to come back because I felt like I was on the cusp of it and it was nice to know I could pull through that.”
Many doubts have arisen since Koepka joined LIV, including whether he would be able to conjure up the level of golf that for a brief but notable period made him the most dominant player in the game. Thursday was just one round, but if Koepka not only recovers but starts playing like that again, the current best players in the world may have to worry about another player alongside Rory McIlroy, Rahm and Scottie Scheffler on Friday and beyond.
Here are four other things to watch out for at Masters on Friday:
Check in with the Big Three
Jon Rahm impressed on Thursday with seven birdies and an eagle on his way to 7-under. Getty Images
Speaking of McIlroy, Rahm and Scheffler, all three had very different laps on Thursday. Scheffler didn’t play his best golf – which to him just means he didn’t finish the round in first place – but he still played well enough to close after an eagle, four birdies and three from the lead with 4-under and three only finish a bogey.
Rahm was the one who rose to the top in the first round, starting with an uncharacteristic four-putt on the first hole before rattling seven birdies and an eagle on his way to the 7-under. It felt like the Spaniard was entering this tournament as the least hyped of this trio and he was quick to show why he could be the favorite as the event entered round two.
McIlroy, meanwhile, had a roller coaster opening round, carding five birdies but equalizing with three bogeys and a double bogey to finish evenly. While that might be a disappointment on a normal day, McIlroy’s opening rounds at Augusta National Golf Club weren’t exactly outstanding. In fact, his 72 on Thursday was his best opening round at the Masters since 2017. There’s still plenty of golf to play, and while many in the field have concerns about worsening weather, McIlroy could thrive on it.
Winter is coming (somehow)
Friday and Saturday are forecast to be days with a 90% chance of rain or higher in Augusta. Matt Slocum/AP photo
Thursday was an idyllic day at Augusta National as the weather in Georgia was perfect for spring. This won’t last. With heavy rain expected in Augusta over the next two days, it’s unclear what the second and third rounds will look like, whether they can be completed, or how it will affect player performance. One thing was certain: a low result on Thursday was needed.
“Today was the right time to get the round under par,” said Tiger Woods. “Most of the guys are down today. That was the day for it.”
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As Rahm pointed out on Thursday, Augusta’s usual inclement weather is leading to a halt for thunderstorms, delaying the tournament but softening the course and making it more receptive to goals after the weather clears. Friday and Saturday are forecast to be days with a 90% or greater chance of rain.
“When it’s softer, you’re going to see guys attacking that golf course a little better,” said Patrick Reed, who shot a 1-of-71. “If the wind stays down like today, you’re going to see a lot of low scores.”
The forecast is expected to include wind speeds of between 10 and 20mph on both Friday and Saturday and should the tournament extend well into Sunday and perhaps Monday the forecast will be clearer and could have even lower results than Thursday make possible.
Mickelson shows signs of life
Phil Mickelson is looking to make his first cut at a major since winning the 2021 PGA Championship. Getty Images
In a surprising turn of events, it was Phil Mickelson – not Woods – who got the lower score of the two on Thursday. The 52-year-old shot 1-for-71 while Woods shot for 73 in his first big round of the year. Mickelson has struggled a lot on the LIV Tour this season, finishing 27th, 32nd and 41st in three events so far. His last major appearance was a missed cut at the US Open.
But according to Mickelson, there’s something about Augusta that fits his aging, imperfect game.
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“I feel like you can play this golf course and you don’t have to be perfect,” Mickelson said. “As long as you put it in the right spots, you can kind of manage your game and shoot a number. I think that’s why I always enjoy playing here, because it makes me feel a little bit more relaxed, like I don’t have to be perfect.”
Whether Mickelson can continue like this and make his first cut at a major since winning the 2021 PGA Championship remains to be seen, but given where the frontrunners lie, both could be fighting to make the cut on Friday. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them together this weekend.
The Sam Bennett Show
Sam Bennett caused a stir, becoming the first amateur to finish in the top 10 after the first round since 2005. Jae C Hong/AP Photo
Ahead of Thursday’s first round, there was a lot of talk about an amateur in the field. That was NCAA singles champion Gordon Sargent, who wowed players like Justin Thomas, Max Homa and McIlroy with his ridiculous ball speed and reach. However, when Thursday was over, it was US amateur champion Sam Bennett who stole the show.
Bennett and his unique distorted swing played alongside Homa and Scheffler to finish 4th among the best player in the world while shooting four shots better than Homa. The Texas A&M senior was unimpressed all day, starting his round with a birdie on a 1 and an eagle on a 2. He put on another birdie on the par 3 sixth hole and rounded those red scores with 15 pars, including 12 straight a bogey-free lap to the finish.
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“I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said Bennett. “Bogey-free, that’s probably what I love most of all. Walking around this place without a bogey is pretty cool.”
The score not only made Bennett the first amateur since Ryan Moore in 2005 to finish in the top 10 after the first round. His score of 68 was the lowest by an amateur in a Major since Hovland’s 67 in the final round of the 2019 US Open.
It’s unclear if Bennett can keep this up for the rest of the week, but it will be a blast watching him try.