HONOLULU, HI – Brooks Koepka hasn't been the same since he tied for third in the FedEx Cup final in August, and hasn't felt entirely healthy since last March.
He wouldn't rate himself full strength now.
Koepka returns to competition this week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, his first tournament since he reinjured his left knee in South Korea at the CJ Cup. He said Tuesday his left knee “doesn't feel the same as my right.”
“It probably won't for a while, but it does feel stable,” Koepka said. “Leaving Korea and all the way up to about a month ago, it just didn't feel stable. It felt like it could either way. It could go left, out, back.”
Koepka says he's had issues since March and just dealt with them. He still managed to win the PGA Championship for the second straight year and pick up his first World Golf Championship. During his short offseason, Koepka had stem cell treatment on his left knee because the patella tendon was partially torn.
Then, he was walking off a tee when he slipped on a wet piece of cement, went to brace himself from falling and reinjured the knee. He said his knee cap moved into the fat pad, which he described as “excruciating.”
He had physical therapy in San Diego for most of December and says he started hitting balls right before Christmas. Koepka said he wouldn't have flown to the United Arab Emirates if he didn't feel healthy, and that his speed and everything else about his game were the same as before he was hurt at the CJ Cup.
"From that moment on, after a couple days of hitting balls and not feeling pain, it was like, 'OK, I could get back here and do this and finally play,'" he said.
A NAME FROM THE PAST
The first player of note from an emerging golf nation is not always the best one. As Li Haotong of China was making his debut at the Presidents Cup, Guan Tianlang was preparing to qualify for the PGA Tour Series-China.
Guan, who won the Asia-Pacific Amateur and then made the cut at the Masters and Zurich Classic when he was 14, made it through. Despite closing with a 79, he tied for 10th last week to earn full status for the season in China.
Guan is a sophomore at Arizona and is still an amateur.
"I think I will turn pro soon," he said, adding there was a "good chance" he would play China's opening tournament. “But I still need some time to think about everything. I might also balance school and play professional events.”
Guan says he expected some highs and lows after his Masters performance. "I think that I'm trending in the right direction now," he said.
Graeme McDowell can add his name to the list of players who went searching for distance and lost sight of their game.
McDowell was enthusiastic at the Sony Open, and that was before he closed with rounds of 67-64 for the best weekend score at wet Waialae. It gave him a tie for fourth, his best finish since winning in the Dominican Republic last spring.
He attributes that to getting back to his normal flight with irons.
McDowell started working in August with Kevin Kirk, also the swing coach for Patrick Reed.
"The first thing I said was I've got to start hitting it lower again," McDowell said. “I'm not playing the wind anymore. That was my bread and butter.”
He still works with Pete Cowen, but McDowell said their schedules didn't mesh as much with McDowell out of the top 50 and not playing in all the majors or World Golf Championships.
Where did he lose his way?
"It probably came from trying to launch the drive too high in a little search for a wee bit of distance," he said. “I got an iron in my hand, it was vertical. That's not me. I need to hit the ball back down to a good window.”
For two weeks in the Hawaii wind, he said he was “back to G-Mac style.”
SHORT ROAD, LONG SHOT
For the host country of the Tokyo Olympics, Hideki Matsuyama (No. 21) and Shugo Imahira (No. 33) are the leading candidates to represent Japan.
Next in line is Ryo Ishikawa at No. 83. Ishikawa showed signs of getting back to form last year when he won three times on the Japan Golf Tour, his first titles since 2016 and his biggest year in Japan since 2010. The problem facing him now is a schedule.
Ishikawa is part of a solid field this week in the Singapore Open, co-sanctioned by Japan. Among those playing are Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. Otherwise, the Japan Golf Tour season doesn't start until a week after the Masters. That would leave Ishikawa only six events on his home tour before the cutoff for the Olympics.
Ishikawa is looking for sponsor exemptions, with his eye on the Genesis Invitational at Riviera and perhaps the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He made his U.S. debut at Riviera in 2009 when he was 17.
Six new players were selected for the 16-member Player Advisory Council this year, the group tasked with listening to players and conveying their thoughts to the four members of the PGA Tour's policy board. The newcomers include Russell Knox and Harry Higgs.
More telling was who was put up for election as PAC chairman, who next year would join the policy board — Justin Thomas, Charley Hoffman and Peter Malnati. That assures a streak that probably should have ended long ago. No foreign-born player has ever been on the policy board.
Last year, 48 of the 125 players who qualified for the FedEx Cup postseason were international players, including 12 of the 30 who reached the Tour Championship.
The others on the PAC: Ryan Armour, Paul Casey, Zach Johnson, Anirban Lahiri, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Harold Varner III all served last year. Also new for this year are David Hearn, Billy Horschel, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Streelman.
Missing from the list is Bryson DeChambeau. Last year at The Northern Trust, when he was criticized for how long it took him to play a shot, DeChambeau said, “I've asked to be on the PAC committee for three years, and it takes time to get on there.”
Higgs is a rookie, although the PAC is evenly populated by players young and old, high and low in the FedEx Cup.
The election for PAC Chairman ends on Feb. 7.
Collin Morikawa's three-putt from 4 feet on the final hole of the Sony Open took him from a potential four-way tie for ninth to a seven-way tie for 21st. Perhaps more than a difference of $108,900 if he had made the short birdie, Morikawa would have moved to No. 50 in the world. He's No. 53. Morikawa needs to be in the top 50 a week before the Masters to get an invitation. ... Inbee Park is returning to Australia for the first time in six years. Park, voted the LPGA Tour's best player of the last decade, plans to play the Vic Open and the Australian Ladies Masters in February. ... The last seven rounds on the PGA Tour in Hawaii were played under lift, clean and place rules.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Lanto Griffin was 7-under par on the 18th hole of the Sony Open. He played the other 68 holes in 1 under.
“I think we know all four tournaments that I'm looking forward to. I think that's pretty obvious.” — Brooks Koepka. Four of his seven victories since 2017 have been majors.