Golf

Back at home, Brooks Koepka hoping to erase these memories of last year’s Honda Classic

Brooks Koepka tees off on the fourth hole during the Pro-Am of the Honda Classic golf tournament Wednesday in Palm Beach Gardens.
Brooks Koepka tees off on the fourth hole during the Pro-Am of the Honda Classic golf tournament Wednesday in Palm Beach Gardens. AP

Brooks Koepka can only shake his head in amazement when he thinks about where he was at a year ago compared to where he is now.

As last year’s Honda Championship was being played, Koepka mulled the possibility that his golf career might be over due to a serious wrist injury.

As this year’s Honda tees off Thursday on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, Koepka will be back on the course swinging long and hard, as is his style, and ranked as the No. 2 player in the world.

The Honda Classic is special to Koepka since he grew up in nearby West Palm Beach, going to Cardinal Newman High. However, last year’s Honda definitely was not-so-special.

“I was sitting on the couch probably eating a bunch of food,” Koepka said of what he was doing during the 2018 Honda as he recuperated. “I wasn’t doing a whole lot. I gained, I think, 15 or 20 pounds. I was obviously upset. It wasn’t fun for me sitting on the couch. I didn’t watch any golf until Augusta [The Masters].

“I didn’t know what was going on [with the injury].”

That said, Koepka, at age 28, did know the possibilities, and many of them were grim.

“Some guys, basically, it’s the end of their career with this injury,” he said. “The unknown isn’t fun. To sit back and really just hope to be able to play again . . .”

Eventually, after three-plus months of not playing and missing The Masters, Koepka felt ready to test the surgically repaired wrist and its troublesome tendon. Koepka hit balls for two days, and that gave him the impetus to enter a tournament.

“I felt like if I just did what I was supposed to do and kind of dug deep and stayed patient that I was going to find a way,” Koepka said.

The comeback did not start off well — not well at all. Koepka missed the cut in New Orleans and finished tied for 42nd at the Wells Fargo. Then improvement came with an 11th at The Players, followed by the spectacular — winning two majors, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

That actually moved Koepka into the world No. 1 ranking for a few bright, shining moments before Justin Rose took over the top position.

Now, after a year that contained an overload on both doubt and success, Koepka is back home ready to test the Champion Course and its infamous three-hole stretch called The Bear Trap. He’s looking forward to it and approaches the Honda with confidence.

“I always had the confidence,” he said. “I wasn’t lacking that. I feel like I’m borderline cocky . . . everybody out here should expect to win. Everybody out here is borderline confident to cocky.”

Whether confident or overly confident, one thing will be a certainty for Koepka as he plays The Honda:

He knows that it is a lot better to be on a golf course than sitting on a couch eating munchies.

At a glance

What: The Honda Classic.

When: Thursday through Sunday.

Where: PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens.

Course: Champion Course, 7,125 yards, par 35-35-70.

Purse: $6,800,000; $1,224,000 to winner.

Television: Thursday and Friday, 2-6 p.m., Golf Channel live; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 pm, NBC live

Format: 72-hole stroke play; 144 players cut to 70 and ties after two rounds.

Defending champion: Justin Thomas (67-72-65-68).

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