KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Brooks Koepka wasn’t simply sore about bad putting that cost him a chance at his third PGA Championship win and fifth major title. He was sore about his injured right knee, which he had to protect and yet still got hit a few times as fans engulfed him and eventual winner Phil Mickelson in a raucous, at times scary, scene in the 18th fairway at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island.
“Yeah it would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury,” he said of the scene at the last hole, with fans eager to congratulate Mickelson, 50, as he became the oldest major champion in golf history. “Got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one really gave a s—, personally. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool. It’s cool for Phil. But getting dinged a few times isn’t exactly my idea of fun.”
Koepka, who finished in a tie for second with Louis Oosthuizen, has been recovering from an injury he suffered in March that required surgery. He slipped while on vacation with family and had to have a procedure to put his knee cap back in place. He has been dealing with it ever since.
All week at the PGA Championship he gingerly bent over to read putts, unable to get low enough to read them how he normally would. Earlier this week, he said his doctors have told him he is still six months from being fully recovered, though he insisted his timeline is shorter. That is why he wasn’t pleased with what happened on the final hole Sunday.
Even Mickelson, while accepting the Wanamaker Trophy after the round, called the scene “unnerving.”
“[I was] trying to protect my knee,” Koepka said. “I don’t think anybody really understands until you’re coming out of surgery how — I mean, even when I was doing rehab and there’s five people kind of standing by your knee, you get a little skittish. Like I don’t mind waiting or being in that crowd but getting my — I don’t know, it felt like somebody tried to, I don’t know what the deal was, but it’s what it is. [I’ll] be putting it in ice today. It feels like s— right now.”
Koepka wasn’t alone in his fight to get through the crowd.
“Somebody jammed [Koepka’s caddie] Ricky [Elliott],” Koepka said. “Ricky stopped unintentionally because he got drilled in the face, and then I got hit because he got stopped so quickly. There were so many people around.”
Koepka had said all week that his knee was steadily improving.
“It felt great,” he said. “Honestly, the knee really did. The knee was not an issue. I was able to push off of it and I didn’t have one shot this week where I felt like I couldn’t push off it. It definitely felt like the strongest it’s been, probably up ’til the last. I don’t know what somebody was trying to do, but if that didn’t happen, yes, I would say it actually felt really good to be honest.”
Koepka still had a chance to force a playoff at the final hole. He would have needed to make his 22-footer for birdie and have Mickelson three-putt from 15 feet. Neither of those things happened; Koepka missed and made par and Mickelson two-putted for his sixth major title.
Koepka’s tap-in for par was his 27th and final putt of the day, ranking him 59th in the field on the greens.
“Just how bad I putted the last two days,” Koepka said in explaining what went wrong this week. “Three days, actually. It felt like tap-ins I was missing. Never felt comfortable, and you’re not going to win if you do that.”