How and why Brooks Koepka won the Waste Management Phoenix Open

We knew that Brooks Koepka had been struggling physically, but, in the aftermath of claiming an eighth PGA Tour victory last week, he revealed the mental difficulties he had overcome too.

Brooks Koepka bounced back into the winner's circle with victory in last week's Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The 30-year-old American was a past winner at TPC Scottsdale, indeed he claimed his first PGA Tour win there in 2015, but recent months had not been kind to him.

Injury had wrecked his confidence and with it his form.

The man who had claimed four Major Championship victories in just eight starts through 2017 to 2019 had gone 18 months without a success of any kind whatsoever.

He headed into Sunday's final round in a tie for seventh, five strokes back of the lead - how and why did Koepka turn everything around?

The back nine Sunday

By the time Koepka had landed his fourth Major, he had just the two regular PGA Tour titles in the bag and only one other success at a comparable level, on the European Tour.

He was widely deemed to be a golfer who preferred the high stakes table.

Indeed, he famously said that Majors were easier to win because so many golfers play themselves out of it.

He also suggested that he struggled in regular events because he pushed too much: "I've tried to build a cushion, maybe pressed a little bit too hard and gotten ahead of myself, where in the Majors I just stay in the moment."

After his year and a half win drought, Koepka didn't really have the luxury of thinking of the big gains - he needed the solace of any win.

And as Sunday at Scottsdale turned into a cavalry charge he was able to call upon his expertise under the cosh.

He was only 1-under-par through 12 holes, but he remained in touch and was well aware that the course sets up for a dramatic finale, offering multiple risk and reward options.

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He birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th holes then chipped in for an eagle-2 at the 17th, a game-changing moment that rewarded all the short game work he has done with his British coach Pete Cowan.

A safe par at the last set a clubhouse target of 19-under 265 which no-one matched.

He was aided by Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth, the pre-round leaders who stalled on Sunday, but when he sniffed the opportunity late on Sunday, Koepka pounced.

Showing off

After the win, the 30-year-old revealed how he had felt going down the stretch.

"Ricky (Elliott, his caddie) said something to me (on the back nine): 'We're right there. We just need a little bit of momentum or a putt to go or way. Never know what's going to happen.'"

It was a smart reminder by his Northern Irish bagman - Koepka is a long-time admirer of the Jack Nicklaus strategy of hanging around leaderboards and letting things happen.

"I hit a lot quality golf shots down the stretch," Koepka added.

"I haven't been in contention in God knows how long, so to actually hit golf shots like I'm accustomed to seeing when the pressure is on, it's a good feeling.

Koepka celebrates draining the eagle chip at 17.
Koepka celebrates draining the eagle chip at 17.

"I live for those moments where you've got to hit some quality shots, quality putts. I don't know, I just like showing off, I guess."

Playing to an audience

Koepka didn't outright make the connection himself, but on the one hand he explained that he likes showing off and on the other he highlighted how difficult he found playing golf in front of no galleries.

In other words: no-one to show off to.

But at TPC Scottsdale, there were 5,000 fans lining the fairways and they made noise for more than that.

Suddenly there was a buzz and Koepka was alive to it.

"I've struggled getting my head wrapped around everything and who knows how long we'll be playing like this," he said. "There's just no energy.

"I miss that pressure, I miss the atmosphere, the fans. My best results come with fans, so I'm excited to have them back."

Dark places

In late 2019 Koepka injured his left knee while defending his CJ Cup title in South Korea.

What followed was not only a physical battle, but a mental one too which Koepka graphically disclosed.

"There was a period of about two months where I just questioned whether I was ever going to be the same," he said. "Was I even going to be the same golfer that I ever was?"

"The lowest moment was probably the Memorial. I was in excruciating pain.

"My knee, no matter how much work and pain I was doing with my trainer, it just felt like it wasn't progressing. That's the frustrating part, when you feel like it's not going anywhere.

"But we stuck with it.

"Those dark places, a lot of tears, questioning yourself, and in dark places mentally. You've got to come out of that."

The numbers

No-one found more greens in regulation (86.1%) than Koepka for the week - the first time that had happened for him since last year's World Golf Championship-St Jude Invitational.

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His Strokes Gained Approach number were also his best since that same tournament - he gained 6.084 on the field.

It was his first visit to TPC Scottsale in four years, but it was a smart decision.

He needed to get golf under his belt, he needed the rare treat of playing in front of fans, and he needed a venue that suits his game.

"Yeah, I love this place," he said after win number two. "It feels good."

Can Koepka win a third US Open title later this season? He's 16/1 to win at Torrey Pines with Unibet.

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