Players 2020: Brooks Koepka makes surprise detour to Vegas to see Butch Harmon before arriving at Sawgrass
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Just eight months ago, Brooks Koepka hardly missed a shot in finishing T-4 at the Open Championship, his putting holding him back from making a charge. The swing was the least of his problems. Heck, there were hardly any problems at all—it was his fifth straight top-five finish in a major, and he was unquestionably the top men’s player in the world.
Fast forward to now, the week of the 2020 Players Championship, and he’s decided his swing has gotten to the point where it’s time for a new set of eyes.
After shooting a career-worst 81 and finishing T-47 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his fifth straight finish of T-17 or worse since returning from knee surgery last fall, Koepka flew out to Las Vegas on Sunday night to see famed swing instructor Butch Harmon. Koepka stayed there on Monday before flying back to the East Coast a day later, arriving at TPC Sawgrass late Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s one of those things I felt like I just … I had so much going on in my head, so many swing thoughts and needed to clear the slate,” Koepka said.
It wasn’t a drastic change to see Harmon by any measure. In fact, he’s keeping it in the family—Butch’s son Claude Harmon III has been Koepka’s chief swing coach for years, and Koepka said Claude gave him his blessing to go see his father. And it’s not like this was a completely new ordeal—the elder Harmon has seen Koepka swing it plenty of times, at the Floridan and at Ryder Cups in years past. Koepka made a point to stay that Claude is still his coach and will always be his coach, and noted that Pete Cowen remains his short-game consultant.
Still, flying across the country and back to see a guy who has coached Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and doing so between two marquee events on the PGA Tour schedule, is a noteworthy decision from the World No. 3, an admission that there’s something wrong, something that needs addressing.
“Claude was telling me the same things he's said for five years, the three keys that we have worked on, and for some reason I just couldn't do it. “That's on me. It's not on Claude, it's not Claude's fault. It's not Pete's fault. It's not anybody's fault except my own. And the fact that I couldn't do it … I just needed a fresh set of eyes just to look at it and see if he saw anything out of the ordinary.”
Koepka is making his fourth start is as many weeks as he continues searching for the form that saw him take the professional game by the throat, winning four majors in nine tries from the 2017 U.S. Open through the 2019 PGA Championship. He’s also scheduled to play at next week’s Valspar Championship and the following week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, then it’s off for one week before the Masters.
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One thing Koepka’s not willing to blame his recent struggles on is his knee.
“My knee’s fine,” he said, despite having been on the record as saying the recovery hadn’t been going the way he'd hoped. “My knee's exactly where it should be. It’s just a matter of execution, taking care of what I need to take care of. It has nothing to do with my knee.”
Koepka’s history here at Sawgrass is a bit of a mixed bag—his best finish in five Players starts is a tie for 11th, but he also holds a share of the course record with a final-round 63 here in 2018.
He’ll play the first two rounds with the two guys ahead of him in the World Rankings: Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Perhaps that bit of motivational fodder, combined with the emergency visit to Brooks, will jump-start Koepka’s year. Just in time for the majors.
“What Butch said, he saw it in four swings and told me a couple things. I had planned on being out there all day Tuesday, except he told me to fly out here get out here and practice, because he felt like everything was on the right track. Now it's our job to make sure that it progresses and it progresses nicely with Claude.”