AUGUSTA, Ga. — The first time Brooks Koepka was at Augusta National Golf Club he left with a memory that remains as fresh today as when it happened two decades ago: being stiffed by Phil Mickelson on an autograph request.
“I was standing by the old range and somehow found my way kind of right by the parking lot or something like that and asked him for an autograph and he said no. He turned me down,” Koepka said Tuesday with a laugh. “Probably about the only kid Phil’s ever turned down.”
Koepka finally told Mickelson the story during a practice round at the Open Championship in 2014. “I was like, ‘Listen, man, you stiffed me, and I really didn’t like you for a long time.’ He was typical Phil, right back at me — I shouldn’t have been there. We can laugh about it now. I’ve got his autograph now.”
It’s been two years since Koepka made the drive down Magnolia Lane. When he last did so he didn’t own any major championship victories. That was in 2017, when he finished T-11. Last year a frustrated Koepka watched from his couch while wearing a soft cast. An injured wrist forced him to sit out three months, but he stormed back to win the U.S. Open — for the second consecutive year — and the PGA Championship in a shootout with Tiger Woods at Bellerive last August.
“Any time you’re on the couch and you’re watching guys that you know you should be competing with, it’s never fun. It was a blessing in disguise,” Koepka said. “I think that was something I needed, to really kind of find my love for the game again, something that was important to me.”
Having last played with zero majors on his resume, he returns with three.
“I’ve got three trophies that I haven’t had any time I’ve teed it up. I’ve never been a major champion when I played here,” he added. “Completely different player probably. Understand how to handle pressure a lot better. Understand this golf course a lot better. Even sitting out a year, there are certain things you can pick up on when you’re watching.”
Koepka won the CJ Cup in South Korea to start this season, but his form has stalled recently. His last three starts amount to a missed cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a T-56 at the Players and a failure to advance out of group play at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.
The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year attributes that to some minor health issues that began at the Players last month. “Just had a bunch of blood work and trying to figure out what was going on. The diet I was on was probably not the best,” Koepka admitted. “I was like 1,800 calories a day. I mean, you’re not going to be in the best physical shape at that point. You look at somebody like Michael Phelps or somebody like that eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories by lunch time. But I wanted to do it and try to lose some weight, and maybe went about it a little too aggressively for just a long period of time and the intensity of what I was doing.”
One possible reason for Koepka’s intense effort to get lean: according to reports, the famously buff golfer will appear in the buff in ESPN’s Body Issue, which will be released later this summer.
Koepka says he hasn’t been in the gym or lifted weights in three weeks. The week of a major is usually a normal workout week for him, but not this time. “This will be more of a relaxing week,” he said, making him about the only contender in the field who feels that way.
Koepka arrived Saturday and hit balls for two days. He played the second nine holes on Monday and wasn’t optimistic about getting any play in Tuesday in the heavy rain. Not that the weather bothers him. “I mean, it happened at the PGA,” he grinned. “So who knows?”