Brooks Koepka is in the field of The American Express tournament in La Quinta for the first time in his stellar career, but he has his eyes on the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego next week and the U.S. Open in June.
“I thought it was important to play Torrey Pines (in San Diego) and just see the golf course one more time before we go play it in the summer,” Koepka said. “One of the things I like (is) to play one round or at least one tournament before I get things started, and I feel like playing this week was beneficial, just to really get the game in flow, just see where you’re at this week and make some adjustments going in to next week.”
That doesn’t exactly make The American Express a kind of spring training for Koepka this week, but it does show that the four-time major winner is thinking about adding to his major championship haul.
“It’s a big prep, a major’s there and it’s important to see that golf course as much as you can,” Koepka said in reference to playing the South Course at Torrey Pines next week. “I’m not the most comfortable on poa greens, I’ve said that before, even though I won two majors on them, but not the most comfortable on them.”
The change in schedule for Koepka is an intriguing one. Starting with the 2015 season, Koepka has played just 11 events on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, including three at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, three at the Sentry Tournament Champions in Hawaii, two each at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles and the Farmers Insurance Open and just one at the AT&T Pro-Am in Pebble Beach. He has never played the Sony Open in Hawaii and had not played The American Express until this week.
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Before the Farmers Insurance event next week, Koepka does have other questions to answer coming off a 2020 calendar year that was not close to his best golf. In the 2019-20 wraparound season, Koepka played just 13 events, had two top-10 finishes and missed five cuts. The culprit was a lingering patella tendon tear that forced Koepka to skip the FedEx Cup playoffs and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September.
Trending in the right direction
Koepka’s game showed progress near the end of the year with a fifth-place finish at the Vivant Houston Open and a tie for seventh in the Masters in November. Koepka hopes that trend continues as the calendar turns to 2021.
“I’m healthy now, so I’m not worried about it. Last year just kind of put it out,” Koepka said. “I went and actually had another round of PRP (a blood platelet replacement procedure), on my knee about two weeks ago, just to make sure. 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.”
That 2018 year saw Koepka win the second of his U.S. Open titles and the first of his two PGA Championships. He won the PGA Championship again in 2019, but has won just once since then, at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2019.
The 30-year-old Koepka insists the knee is not an issue as he comes to the Coachella Valley for the first time.
“I’m very happy with it and I don’t even — last year doesn’t even register in my head,” he said.
A healthy Koepka is a confident Koepka, and that confidence in his game seems to be coming back as he begins the new year in the desert.
“My whole season last year was, for the last year and a half, it’s been an injury.” Koepka said. “I couldn’t shake it, tried to play, adjust my schedule, tried to play through it and injuries attract other injuries and that kind of sums up the season.
“I feel like, like I said, I just put it behind me, I don’t really put too much emphasis on last year,” Koepka added. “My confidence is still high. I’ve seen so much better results, so much better in my practice sessions now that I’m healthy.”
Still a desert event to play
Torrey Pines and the U.S. Open might be Koepka’s focus this week, but he’ll still play in The American Express, a tournament reworked this week because of COVID-19 restrictions in the state.
The event features no traditional three-day pro-am, just two courses being played for the first time in the event’s 62-year history and no spectators. But that also means no distractions for a player working on getting his game in shape the year. The tournament is played on the Pete Dye Stadium Course and the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West in La Quinta, courses generally praised for their condition and greens.
“I just want to see where I’m at in the beginning part of this year,” Koepka said. “Because I feel good, so everything — my game, 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.”
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.
American Express facts
What: 62nd American Express golf tournament
When: Jan. 21-24
Where: Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses, PGA West
Tournament host: Phil Mickelson
Defending champion: Andrew Landry
Purse: $6.7 million, $1,206,000 to the winner
Television: Golf Channel, Noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (American Express Charity Challenge Wednesday, 2 p.m.)