Brooks Koepka describing his knee injury and intense recovery is not for the faint-hearted
In a text exchange with a friend of mine before the Masters began, I explained why I was “rolling with Brooks Koepka” to win this week. While my friend didn’t disagree — actually telling me he thought Koepka would be a popular choice following his recent LIV Tour win in Orlando — he also uttered some words that often get associated with Koepka; some hate.
“Koepka winning would be such an awful golf story,” my friend replied.
Thus has been the public perception of Brooks Koepka following his exile from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf in 2022, where, like many of his peers, he took the big paycheck without much hesitation.
But there might have been more than meets the eye with Koepka’s decision to max out his earning power.
The 32-year-old showed his vulnerability during Netflix’s “Full Swing” series — where he questioned his own ability against some of his peers — but he wasn’t showing how much physical pain he was in following a gruesome knee injury he sustained in the spring of 2021.
Whether the criticism is warranted or not, with many casting Koepka as a villain in the golf world, he’s overcome it for the first two rounds of this year’s Masters. As of press time, he’s still leading at Augusta — and is just two solid rounds away from capturing his fifth major championship.
When you consider his self-doubt, the lost confidence and the injuries over the years, it’s impressive to see Koepka’s Masters display thus far. But when you really understand just how frightening his knee injury was in 2021, maybe people will begin to change their narrative about him — because he’s still working his way back.
Brooks Koepka details gruesome knee injury
Following his first round at the Masters, Koepka didn’t hold back when describing how serious (and frightening) his knee injury really was.
“I just slipped. I was at home. I dislocated my knee and then I tried to put it back in and that’s when I shattered my kneecap and during the process tore my MPFL (medial patellofemoral ligament),” he said. “My leg was sideways and out. My foot was turned out, and when I snapped it back in, because the kneecap had already shattered, it went in pretty good. It went in a lot easier!”
Koepka eventually got knee surgery — from a world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had previously operated on other star athletes like Tom Brady and the late Kobe Bryant.
But even after getting the knee cleaned up, Koepka admitted his body wasn’t the same — which led him to bad habits and frustration after feeling so limited.
“If your body won’t allow you to do the things you want to do, it’s frustrating and all of a sudden you create a lot of bad habits and then try to work out of the unhealthiness, takes a while, and then all of a sudden you have to get out of those bad habits.”
Like all major injuries, Koepka’s rehab was intense. Even today, he’s still required to go through a rigorous pre- and post-round routine to get it loose and allow him to feel comfortable on the golf course.
“Work with Marc [Wahl, his physical therapist] before. Work with Marc after. Work with Andrew [Cummings, a sports performance therapist] in the gym in the morning. And then we get done, we get to — I forget what it’s called — anyway, it’s a cold thing that goes over my knee. I sit on it for 30 minutes, and I do that about two or three times a night to make sure the swelling is down.
“If it swells up, it’s tough to move because there’s still quite a bit of some fluid in there. We’ve been able to flush out a lot of it, but there’s still some in it.”
Finally, Koepka showed more of that vulnerability we saw in “Full Swing”, discussing the intensity and pain during his rehab — which pushed him to tears just to gut out playing at the Masters in 2021.
“Honestly, I just think of all those hard times. I think of the lady, Heather, that was doing my rehab; just to play Augusta in ’21. Ricky [Elliott, his caddie] was with me, I just remember biting down on a towel and tears were coming out of my eyes and she was trying to bend the knee. I figure if I can go through that, I can go through anything.”
So while there are plenty of haters who throw criticism Koepka’s way — whether deservingly or not — it’s hard not to appreciate all that he’s doing at the Masters right now. He may not become a fan favorite and get showered with love like we’ve seen from other players at Augusta in the past. But after hearing all that he’s been through, and seeing that he continues to push himself through the pain to perform at the highest level, here’s to hoping golf fans appreciate his heart, determination and desire.
In the end, if Koepka is to win the Masters after all of that, maybe it would actually be an awesome story for golf.