ABU DHABI, Jan 15 — World number one Brooks Koepka admits he was unsure about playing the US$7 million (RM28.5 million) Abu Dhabi Championship this week, but not because of heightened political tensions in the Middle East.
The 29-year-old American was more unsettled by the injury to his left knee that required stem cell treatment and has kept him out of competitive golf for over three months.
Asked ahead of Thursday’s start whether his appearance in Abu Dhabi was in doubt following the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone attack, Koepka said: “It was not an issue. It was fine and I am happy to be here.”
However, the rehabilitation process of his damaged knee was different.
“I’ve been worried about my knee,” he said.
“Just honestly, thinking about trying to play, trying to get over here for this. I don’t want to say this, but it was kind of up in the air.
He said he started hitting balls just before Christmas and “everything felt good”.
“From that moment on, after a couple days of hitting balls and not feeling pain, I knew I could get back here and do this and finally play.”
It was a second long lay-off for the four-time major champion in the past couple of years.
In early 2018, he took a 17-week break after a wrist injury. He came back in stunning fashion, finishing second in the Fort Worth Invitational in his third start and winning the US Open after six weeks back.
Asked if he had more motivation and expected similar results in his latest comeback, Koepka said: “I don’t know if it gives me more motivation. I don’t think it does.
“I think when you have something you love and it’s taken away from you, it makes you appreciate it more and really enjoy being out here.
“But I’m excited. I’m just excited to hit balls. There is an enthusiasm to get out there and play.”
Koepka, who finished tied ninth in the tournament last year, headlines a stellar field for the first Rolex Series event of the European Tour season.
Also in the field are his US compatriots, world number six Patrick Cantlay and 16th-ranked Bryson DeChambeau.
The reigning British Open champion Shane Lowry is the defending champion and comes off a good week in Hong Kong, where he finished second.
Koepka has been paired with two-time Abu Dhabi champion and world number 10 Tommy Fleetwood and Lowry for the first two rounds. — AFP