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Brooks Koepka returns to Las Vegas as world’s best golfer

Brooks Koepka last played in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in 2016.

Safe to say his life has changed in the three years since.

Koepka returns to Las Vegas this week as the world’s top golfer and the first No. 1 to play in the tournament since 1988. The 29-year-old espoused TPC Summerlin on Wednesday ahead of his 2019-20 PGA Tour season debut and recalled how his mentality has changed since he last played the course.

Some eight months before his first major championship victory.

“At that time, it was just trying to win and trying to compete,” said Koepka, whose younger brother Chase also is playing in the tournament. “I have one goal, just to win. That’s it. Win as many times as I can this year. I enjoy it. I enjoy the competition. I want to be the best.

“Everybody is in that rearview mirror, and I have to figure out how to consistently stay on top.”

Koepka was once relatively anonymous and admits he’s still adjusting to the fanfare. He speaks with a coy kind of confidence, but said he still thinks of himself as a “regular guy,” no different from the one who finished second to Rod Pampling in the 2016 Shriners Open.

And certainly not like the four-time major champion who finished in the top four of all four majors in 2019.

“Every time you play, there are a lot more people. Now it’s to the point where almost every restaurant you go to somebody is asking for a picture,” said Koepka, a native of West Palm Beach, Florida. “It’s different. I’m still learning how to deal with it. It’s an adjustment period.

“You dream of all this stuff happening, but you don’t know what’s really going to come from it until you get there. It’s a learning experience, but it’s been fun along the way.”

Koepka earned PGA Player of the Year honors in the 2018-19 season despite playing most of the year with a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee. He said Wednesday that he didn’t practice during the 2018-19 season and had a stem cell procedure Aug. 26 to alleviate some of the issues. He was inactive for a few weeks rehabilitating the knee before starting to practice again.

He said he’s mostly healthy and plans to practice regularly throughout the 2019-20 season.

“I’ve only got so many shots left, so if I can come back and be healthy, that’s the important thing,” Koepka said. “I finally feel good enough where I can actually practice and feel prepared coming into golf tournaments now. … Just being able to walk the golf course without pain is nice.”

Koepka played in the pro-am Wednesday, finishing 3 under par. He’s grouped with fellow major champions Gary Woodland and Adam Scott of UNLV, and they tee off at 7:20 a.m. Thursday.

“We’ve been working on improving the competition since I got here,” said tournament director Patrick Lindsey, who added that he “ran up and down the hallway” when he found out Koepka was playing.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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