Masters Golf

Brooks Koepka is all smiles at Augusta National Golf Club's practice facility on Monday, Aprl 5, 2021 in Augusta, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka has gone from broken knee to bended knee to being back at the Masters.

The four-time major champion surprised observers by showing up at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday to play four practice holes less than three weeks after undergoing right knee surgery March 16 to repair a dislocation and ligament damage. He was on the course again Monday afternoon with an eye to teeing it up in his sixth Masters on Thursday.

More than that, he believes he can contend.

“If I knew I was going to finish second,” he said, “I wouldn’t have shown up.”

Koepka won the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens and the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships. He also tied for second in the 2019 Masters a stroke behind Tiger Woods with Dustin Johnson. Johnson went on to win here in November while Koepka tied for seventh.

Koepka literally got down on his right knee on a beach in Florida in early March to propose to his long-time girlfriend, actress Jena Sims.

Dinner with Dustin

The most exclusive club within one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world is the Masters’ Champions Dinner, held every Tuesday night of Masters week.

The qualifications for attending are few, but strict:

• Past Masters champions

• Augusta National and Masters chairman Fred Ridley.

That’s it. No other members, wives or girlfriends.

The defending champion sets the menu. Past winners like Scotland’s Sandy Lyle and Australian Adam Scott have made exotic choices like haggis and Moreton Bay bugs (a type of lobster), but Johnson went with decidedly simple fare:

• Pigs in a blanket, lobster and corn fritters appetizer

• House or Caesar salad

• Mashed potatoes and spring vegetables

• Filet mignon and miso-marinated sea bass

• Peach cobbler and apple pie with vanilla ice cream

Johnson said during last year’s tournament that his favorite Masters “tradition” was the club’s concession, but pimento cheese and egg salad on white bread didn’t make the cut.

Tigers, not Tiger

Woods isn’t expected to even be here for the Champions Dinner, much less compete, because of serious injuries sustained in a Feb. 23 car crash in California.

But two former LSU Tiger baseball players are here, serving as gallery marshals.

Former LSU shortstop Michael Hollander (2005-08) is in his seventh year working along the No. 1 fairway. Ex-Tiger infielder Buzzy Haydel (2006-09) is working his first Masters on the 10th fairway.

Hollander’s dad was a long-time Masters marshal, and his uncle works with him on No. 1.

Being a Masters marshal is a volunteer job. The reward is getting to come back to venerable Augusta National Golf Club in May and play the course shortly before it closes for the summer.

A friend indeed

Friends don’t let friends miss the Masters.

Even if they’re on crutches.

Lafayette native Casey Williams, who now lives in Columbia, South Carolina, thought of passing on a pair of Monday Masters practice round tickets after recently tearing his patella tendon playing basketball.

Still, he didn’t want to let down his friend, Travis Berger of Slidell, who had never attended the Masters. So there they were Monday, sitting in the shade along the gallery rope at the bend in the fairway of the par-5 13th hole. It’s a prime spot with views of the 13th hole’s 1,500 azaleas and Amen Corner’s 12th green.

To get there from the entrance gates is a drop in elevation of well over 100 feet down hilly terrain, a trek Williams made with his crutches and wearing a bulky knee brace.

“It’s worth the effort,” Williams said.

“What’s going to be something is the climb back” up, Berger said.


Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com