NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Two weeks before sitting behind a LIV microphone at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Brooks Koepka taunted a reporter at the US Open.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” he said of the possibility of leaving the PGA Tour for his new rival. “I don’t get it. I’m trying to focus on the US Open, man. I legitimately don’t get it,” he continued.
“You can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror, right?”
On Tuesday, at Koepka’s first news conference as a member of the Saudi-backed LIV separatist tour, he began with a similar challenge.
“My opinion changed. That was it,” he said, when asked about the sudden change that brought him to this week’s LIV event. “You guys will never believe me, but we didn’t have the conversation until everything was set at the US Open and we figured it out. Here I am.”
Here it was indeed. Of the nine players who debuted at LIV outside of Portland, Oregon, none were as surprising or eye-catching as Koepka. Striking because Koepka’s four major championship titles have him tied for the player under 45. Surprising because he has spent much of the past two years expressing his desire, both publicly and privately, to remain on the PGA Tour. .
On Tuesday, flanked by Pat Perez and Patrick Reed at their joint news conference, Koepka partially explained that decision.
“I think definitely talking to guys who played [LIV’s debut London event] it definitely helped,” he said. That meant talks with Dustin Johnson, with Phil Mickelson, with Koepka’s own brother Chase, each of whom was at the inaugural LIV field. But Koepka also spent the past two years battling injuries, so he admitted the promise of guaranteed cash and limited starts also caught his eye.
“Look, what I’ve had to spend the last two years on my knees, the pain, the rehab, all these things, you realize, you know, I need a little more time off. I’ll be the first to say, it hasn’t been easy the last couple of years, and I think having a little more rest, a little more time at home to make sure I’m 100% before I go play an event and I don’t feel like I’m obligated to play right away, that was a big thing for me.”
Almost every LIV player has emphasized this same talking point of fewer events and more time between them. It will be interesting to see if that turns out to be true. Koepka will likely play a lighter season the rest of this year; LIV has just eight events on its schedule (seven remaining, including this week) plus the Open Championship, and the PGA Tour has suspended LIV participants from its events indefinitely. It will be interesting to see if his load really does get lighter in the years to come. Koepka has played between 17 and 22 events each of the last four years and LIV is expanding to 14 events by at least 2024; those mandatory starts plus four majors would give Koepka most of the way to his usual total. But each event is only 54 holes instead of 72 and he emphasized the fact that in recent seasons he has quickly recovered from injury, feeling the pressure of the PGA Tour game.
Despite a couple of early jokes and his expressed excitement at making his LIV debut, Koepka’s mood grew increasingly defiant as the media session continued. Koepka is often snippy with reporters, but his approach was a stark contrast to newcomers Matthew Wolff, who said LIV’s team format was a throwback to good college memories, and Pat Perez, who said he felt that he had won the lottery just by being asked (and paid) to play. Instead, Koepka bristled at a series of awkward but predictable questions.
When asked about LIV’s controversial funding source, the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, he bristled.
“We’re playing golf,” he said.
When asked about his own change of heart, Koepka responded to the golf media for being slow on the uptake.
“The conversation has been going on for a while. What is that, three years? So I mean it’s been around a lot longer than you guys realized or when you first found out about it,” she said. “And like I said, my opinion changed. I am allowed to change my opinion.”
After a tense back-and-forth with another reporter on how LIV is really going to grow the game: “Well, given the fact that there’s more golf on TV, I mean, yeah, that’s going to grow the game; Right?” — the session ended with a reporter from golf weekwho asked if the players had received media training, knowing that they would face difficult questions.
“Zero,” Perez said.
Koepka shook his head.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I mean, unless you want to do it yourself.”
“Just asking,” the reporter said.
“I know,” Koepka said, holding her gaze a second longer. “I just gave you an answer, man. Thanks boss.
That was it; the press conference concluded moments later. The trio stepped down from their podium and walked out; Pumpkin Ridge, without fans on Tuesday, was remarkably quiet. The calm before the storm.