Just over a year ago, Brooks Koepka described himself as “glass.” His body was breaking down. The cumulation of severe knee, wrist and hip injuries threatened to compromise a career that has produced four major titles. He knows he’ll eventually need knee replacement surgery.
But he was determined to recover and return to the kind of elite-level golf he expects from himself. On Sunday at the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah presented by ROSHN, all that hard work paid off, as he beat Smash GC teammate Peter Uihlein with a birdie on the third playoff hole to capture his first LIV Golf individual title and his first worldwide win in 20 months.
In addition, his Smash GC, which also includes Brooks’ brother Chase and Jason Kokrak, won its first team title of the season by 6 strokes over Fireballs GC, last week’s winner in Bangkok. Crushers GC claimed third place via tiebreaker over 4 Aces GC.
The combination of the team victory, and battling against Uihlein – his good friend, ex-roommate and now teammate – made for a special weekend at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
“Honestly, to me the big thing today was getting the team win,” said Koepka, who shot a final-round 69 to finish regulation at 12 under with Uihlein. “I told my brother I’d buy him a Lambo if we won the team thing, so I’ve got to go buy one.”
Chase has already selected the color. “Lime green,” he said.
With the win, Smash GC finishes in fifth place in the season-long team standings. While the top four will receive day-one byes at the Miami Team Championship on Oct. 28-30, Smash will get to choose its opponent for the first day of match play.
“I kept thinking about it all week,” Koepka said. “Being able to pick who we are going to play is going to be important. We’re excited for Miami.”
Sunday’s playoff was the second of the inaugural LIV Golf season, with Dustin Johnson winning in dramatic fashion in Boston with an eagle on the first playoff hole. It took three playoff holes, all at the par-5 18th, to determine the winner in Jeddah.
After Koepka and Uihlein each birdied the 18th in regulation – eliminating the hopes of Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann, who had finished at 11 under – they each produced birdies in the first two playoff holes. Uihlein, in particular, showed off some skillful wedge play to set up his tap-in birdie putts.
But on the third playoff hole, Uihlein’s luck ran out, as his third shot from a greenside bunker flew past the pin and rolled into the water. After Uihlein missed his chip for par, Koepka made it a moot point by rolling in his birdie putt with the skies darkening.
“It’s always fun battling against your friends, and I think it’s special,” Koepka said of Uihlein. “Pete is knocking on the door.”
Financially, it was a bittersweet result for Uihlein. A victory would have given him not only the $4 million tournament prize but also second place in the season-long Individual Champion final standings, with the bonus prize of $8 million. Instead, he won $2.125 million for finishing second, and $4 million for finishing third in the season-long race (in addition to his $750,000 share of the $3 million team victory).
“Consolation,” said Uihlein, who had entered Sunday with a one-shot lead over Koepka. “… Still a good chunk of change.”
Considering that his front nine consisted of two double bogeys and a three-putt for par, Uihlein could easily have been discouraged heading to the back nine. But he responded with a bogey-free 3 under on his final nine holes to close out an even-par round of 70 and make the playoff.
“Fought back and played solid on the back,” he said. “Holed some nice putts for par. I felt like if I can keep staying one back of the lead going into the last couple, I could at least give myself a chance.”
Indeed, several players were in the mix down the stretch, including Garcia, Niemann, Matthew Wolff, Paul Casey and even Dustin Johnson, who made a late charge after an eagle. But ultimately it came down to Koepka and Uihlein, who had never before played in the same group until Sunday when they were in the final group.
“Pretty cool,” Koepka said. “We’ve known each other for so long. That’s what you want to do, right? You want to compete with some of your very good friends, go toe-to-toe.”
It was extra special given that they are now teammates. “I’m so excited,” Koepka said. “This team thing has revived me.”