Masters 2023: The Brooks Koepka narrative adds another twist
Imagine for a moment you're a Netflix executive, and you're overseeing the documentary series Full Swing, the first season of which debuted in February. You got some good mileage out of Brooks Koepka, the "star" of the second episode, mostly because you successfully showed a side of him that we hadn't seen; namely, the "Hamlet" side. Far from the icy-cold major-winning jock that he often plays in big tournaments, this was Koepka at his most mentally vulnerable, deep inside his head, and so shook by injuries and his own performance that he eventually surrendered to his new reality and jumped at the LIV paycheck. That arc was interesting and even fruitful, especially when contrasted with the rising star of Scottie Scheffler. But now you're making a second season, and what comes next? Another year of moaning about the erosive qualities of time, except this time without even a looming decision to provide some dramatic ballast? Sounds like running in place, right?
Well, as of Thursday, things look a little brighter for the storytellers. Koepka, who has been quietly playing well on the LIV Golf tour—he won last week in Orlando—and quietly getting healthy, showed for at least a day that at least one player can transform from the breakaway circuit to the major championships. With a 7-under 65 in his first round at the Masters, he raced to a tie at the top of the leaderboard with Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm, and has made a great start in filling up one more of those empty trophy shelves he showed the cameras on Full Swing; the vacancy of which now seem less like a sad testament to waylaid ambition and more like...well, more like something that might actually hold another major trophy.
As it happened, when he faced the press after his Thursday performance, the second question was about Full Swing itself, and how far he'd seemingly come.
"Anytime with something like that, you don't see everything," he said. "A lot of it, it's all injury-based. Any athlete, anybody that's going through something where you can't even bend your knee, I mean, I'll spare everybody the details of what had actually happened. It was pretty gruesome, right. They told me getting out of surgery that it was going to be pretty much a year and a half anyways, and then you just create bad habits, and it's just frustration. You feel like you're never going to be healthy."
Koepka spoke about his surgery, performed by the same doctor who has operated on Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant, among others, and how the rehab was the hardest work of his career. It wasn't until December when he could bend his knee fully, and he has painful memories of fighting back tears as bit on towels and tried to regain flexibility in the joint. Now, he wishes he had appreciated small milestones along the way, and seemed to show some regret in rushing back to play the Masters in '21, where he spent the week scouting out where to walk because the hilly geography made it so hard on him. Today, "healthy" for Koepka means waking up pain free, having full movement, and not needing a shot to be able to compete. He also has a pre- and post-round process designed to keep the knee healthy and minimize the fluid that's still present.
As for Full Swing, he seemed happy with how he was portrayed, despite the fact that they couldn't present the full picture.
"I think it was good," he said. "People probably don't think I'm as open as what I really am. I'll tell you what I'm feeling in the moment...I'm pretty vulnerable, too, away from the golf course. I've always said what you see on the golf course isn't what you get behind closed doors."
The lingering question that went unasked was whether knowing that full health was on the horizon might have affected his decision to leave the PGA Tour in the first place. It's impossible to say, but if you believe the depiction on Full Swing, it certainly seemed as though his inability to compete at the same level had a massive influence. There are even reports that Koepka has had second thoughts about joining LIV now that he's performing at a high level.
But even if everything is hunky-dory with Koepka and LIV Golf, his 65 at Augusta represents an unmistakable shift in how he's performing, how we perceive him, and likely how he perceives himself and the future of his career.
"Once you feel good," he told reporters, "everything changes."
And if change is the engine of any good story, score one for Netflix.
RELATED: Masters 2023: Brooks Koepka describing his gruesome knee injury is not for anyone with a weak stomach
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