CROMWELL, Conn. — Sometime in the last few days — ever since he was telling friends he was emphatically out of the LIV Golf Series — Brooks Koepka found a metaphorical horse’s head on his bed, an offer he couldn’t refuse from the Saudi. dismemberment enthusiasts behind the getaway circuit. Given that Koepka does not tolerate fools with gusto and has openly scorned leading LIV Golf figures (Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al Sorour), we have to assume that the offer was high enough to let him sleep soundly.
For those who know Koepka well, a brief moment at last week’s US Open offered early, irrefutable evidence that he had decided on LIV Golf. He approached Mickelson at the shooting range to offer him a fist bump and exchange a few words. That won’t be the only time he finds himself doing something that until very recently would have seemed off-putting to him. The Saudis expect loyalty among team members, whether they are golfers or assassination squads at far flung consulates.
Beyond now having to work at the beck and call of people he doesn’t like (rightfully so, to be fair), the decision to join LIV Golf is a humiliation for Koepka, though he’ll hate to admit it. He’s always fancied himself more of an athlete than a golfer, but this is an admission that he’s nothing of the sort, that he’s just an artist doomed to play exhibitions against the failed veterans and unnamed youngsters who have long deemed unfit to sniff his jockstrap. .
There’s a reason behind the tacit acknowledgment: Koepka’s body has been degrading for years, and a lingering injury has him perilously close to surgery and a long layoff. He may have made a commitment to the Saudis, but they will be lucky to see him stick to it.
There is a clear trend among players who go to LIV Golf, beyond the obvious thirst for money. In almost every case, his long-term ability to consistently compete against the world’s best on the PGA Tour is questionable, whether on the basis of physical longevity (Koepka, DeChambeau), decrepitude (Mickelson, Westwood, Poulter) , decreased ability (McDowell, Kaymer) or apathy (Johnson, who would rather be fishing). They are emeritus stars, their best run over a few miles back by younger, healthier, more powerful competition. Any suggestion that he belongs in their ranks will hurt a proud man like Koepka, but it is true.
Competitive relevance is one of the most predictable aspects of this story, along with the nominally respectable media galloping out the door with meager rumors, pointlessly helping the Saudis create a narrative that momentum has turned inexorably toward them. There are also other emerging trends worth mentioning.
Buying critical voices, for example. It goes back to Paul Casey. As a UNICEF ambassador, he sat out the first Saudi international tournament in 2019 as an act of conscience. The following year, Casey had been compensated enough to explain his presence as an act of commitment. Continue today. Pat Perez publicly criticized LIV Golf months ago, mostly because of his well-known dislike for Mickelson, but he, too, was bought.
And finally, Koepka, who had several short exchanges with Saudi representatives in rebuffing their advances in 2021. Finally, they too met their price.
Another obvious trend is the heat map of player management agencies. Take for example GSE Worldwide, which has earned millions of dollars in fees for funneling its clients into the Saudi rat trap: DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, with many more of their assets among the rumored and imminent. And if you want proof that Jay Monahan can’t rest: One GSE client who hasn’t been transferred to the Saudis is Grayson Murray.
Sentiment on the range at TPC River Highlands after Tuesday’s players’ meeting was mixed. There were expressions of support for Monahan and faith in the changes he proposes, including from day laborers who will have to work harder to get bark from him. But that was tempered by irritation that he hasn’t been out in public beating up the Saudis often enough. That’s a criticism he cuts both ways. Monahan told the players that they should also get out of the fence and fight for the Tour from him.
The meeting had two sobering moments for some of the assembled players whose peripheral consciousness might not be what it should be. Monahan was asked who would pay the lawyers if the suspended Saudi-linked players or their benefactors litigated. You will, was the reply. The commissioner explained that the Tour is an association, a collective of members, and that a lawsuit brought by one player against the Tour is a lawsuit brought against (and defended by) all the players.
He was also asked what steps the major championships, each run by an organization Monahan does not control, are taking. It’s a tricky question given the fear of legal exposure if the majors are perceived to be helping the Tour exclude a competitor, but the answer was simple: nothing, for now. It was a reminder of the important role that will ultimately fall to the majors. One side wants them to act, the other trusts them to do nothing. Players on both sides, however, insist the majors can’t present a credible field without their support.
Even before Monahan gathered his members Tuesday morning in Connecticut and asked them to make their voices heard, a small group of high-profile players were talking about making an unequivocal and united public stand against LIV Golf and in support of the PGA. Tour.
Until this week, that group included Brooks Koepka.