And so he went through the next four holes until he hit the 445-yard par-4 tee shot on 6 and began to check the face of his driver. Koepka notices a small crack in the club head, and suddenly his leisurely ride is filled with anxiety.
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But he was able to regroup on the back nine, eventually deploying a new driver and carding a pair of birdies to finish with a 72, eight shots behind leader Harold Varner in the 12-player 54-hole tournament.
“Honestly, it looks like you’re punching a marshmallow,” Koepka said. “It’s an amazing feeling. You feel like you’re hitting the bottom of the club. I don’t know how much damage was done [is enough to be allowed a replacement], or whatever word they used. It’s amazing.”
Koepka continued to check the club on the sixth hole before pulling out his cell phone. His caddy, Ricky Elliott, was chatting on his cell phone, and soon a new driver from Koepka’s team approached the No. 6 green.
But before Koepka could break in the new equipment, a law enforcement official informed him that he was not allowed to replace the driver after he won a major championship to participate in the first LIV golf tournament.
The official informed Koepka that the injury would have to be “significant” to be allowed a replacement club. After the conversation, Koepka assigned the backup driver to another team member to stay nearby.
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On tee 7, Koepka had a battered club in hand as he teed up the fairway on the 583-yard par 5, the longest hole on the layout’s front nine that covers nearly 7,700 yards and requires even the game’s mighty. Hitters, of which Koepka is one, to use the driver.
The tee ball on the seventh floated right after contact and landed on the second piece of rough, making the hole bear more to look for. Koepka made par, then missed the fairway again on Nos. 8 and 9, glancing up at his driver with each errant slide.
“Golf is a bit behind in buying,” he said. “Like, if it’s cracked, just replace it. If you mess it up, you are, I understand, out of anger or something. I do not know. You know it’s messed up. Everyone agreed on this. It’s just the rule.”
Relief finally came to Koepka in a fair par on No. 11, again showing the club’s damage as he approached the same legal authority. At this point, Koepka was given a substitute driver, and went on to unleash one of the best drives of the round.
Still, the equipment failure was a shock in a week when Koepka was living his best career since the PGA.
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Before Koepka arrives in Northern Virginia, he will play Monday night against his hometown Florida Panthers in the Sunrise Stanley Cup playoffs in Fla. Koepka, wearing a Panthers jersey, sits in a box with the Wanamar Trophy.
The following night, he sat courtside with his wife, Jenna Sims, at the Cassia Center in Miami during Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and the Boston Celtics.
“It’s part of it, just, just getting back into the normal routine,” said Koepka, who arrived Thursday to play the course for the first time in a pro-am. Just playing golf was great. Play better the next few days by getting to know the golf course a little, know where to hit, where to miss.
Sunday’s win at Oak Hill was Koepka’s first major since the 2019 PGA Championship. His three PGA Championships (tied with Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead) leave him behind Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus with five each and Tiger Woods with four.
Koepka trails only Woods and Philly Mickelson in major championship wins since 1990 to LIV Golf.
“I think Cam [Smith] Better said at Augusta. “It’s very important for the LIV guys to be seen,” said Varner of the impact of Major Koepka’s win. “It’s not just about getting in. I thought that was great. It helped me get my mind right that we’re here to play well. It’s a good thing you’re not just playing for yourself.”