As Brooks Koepka pursues a three-peat at the PGA Championship, he’s also making a case for the Ben Hogan Award.
That’s the award given by the Golf Writers Association of America to an individual who has remained active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness, and on Friday, Koepka needed his physical therapist, Marc Wahl, to stretch out his left hip and tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscle, which tightened on multiple occasions.
“It’s fine,” Koepka told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “It’s just tight.”
“It’s nothing to be worried about,” he said later during his post-round press conference after shooting 2-under 68.
It didn’t look that way as he lay on his back on three separate occasions for treatment, the first of which occurred after hitting his tee shot on the 12th hole and the last on No. 16.
While Keopka’s travails pale in comparison to Hogan, who was hit by a bus and returned a year later to win the 1950 U.S. Open, Koepka required a stem-cell treatment on his left knee in September following the Tour Championship, and slipped and reinjured the knee at the CJ Cup in November.
Koepka missed the Presidents Cup in December and has struggled most of the season since his return, recording only two top-10 finishes. Last week in Memphis, Keopka conceded he might need another stem-cell treatment, but he said after the second round at TPC Harding Park that it wasn’t his knee that was the issue.
Koepka said his TFL bothered him when he woke up. He worked out and had it stretched prior to the round, but it tightened up during play.
“It’s usually tight but it’s never this tight,” he said. “It won’t be an issue. I’m not really worried about it.”
When ESPN showed a highlight of Koepka’s left leg being stretched, he downplayed the significance again as if this sort of thing happened all the time.
“It hurts me just looking at it,” ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi said.
But this was anything but an ordinary occurrence. When asked during his press conference to recall the last time he needed treatment from his physical therapist mid-round, Koepka said, “I can’t remember if it was 2014 or 2015 at Arnold Palmer (Invitational). Just a rib came out, and that was the last time. But it’s been a while.”
Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one good leg in what became known as The Battle at Wounded Knee. Could this be Koepka’s version of overcoming physical adversity while bidding to become the first player in nearly a century to win the PGA Championship in three consecutive years?
“He just keeps fighting and believes in what he’s doing,” ESPN’s David Duval said.
Koepka, who signed for 66 on Thursday, wedged from the first cut to 5 feet for a birdie at the first on Friday, and tacked on birdies at the two par 5s – Nos. 4 and 10. He surrendered strokes at Nos. 6 and 13, but capped off the round with birdie at the last after sticking his 166-yard approach to 7 feet, ball above his feet, edge of a fairway bunker.
“That was as good as I saw all day,” Duval said of a nifty mid-iron.
Koepka’s 68 lifted him to 6-under 134 through 36 holes in a six-way tied for second and trailing only China’s Haotong Li by two strokes.
Koepka notched his sixth straight round in the 60s and his 18th round in the 60s in the majors out of his last 22, re-discovering his ball-striking ability at an opportune time. He ranks second in Strokes Gained: approach-to-the-green and second in proximity to the hole this week. Hogan would be proud.
“It could’ve been better today,” Koepka said. “I probably could be 10 (under).”
He also could be on his way to a historic three-peat at the PGA and his fifth major championship, but it may all come down to how his hip and TFL muscle feel when he wakes up the next two days and whether his physical therapist can work his magic.
“We’ll loosen it up again and it will be a lot better,” Koepka said.