Since March, Brooks Koepka has vehemently denied that he is considering joining the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
“Money won’t change my life,” Koepka said at the time with a scornful grin. Just two weeks ago, Koepka was still telling other players he wasn’t interested in leaving the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, he switched sides LIV golf coursewhich will hold its second event outside of Portland, Oregon starting June 30th.
What has changed for Kopka? It would be easy to say that he most likely had over 100 million reasons to change course, as other former PGA Tour players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau reportedly received nine-figure contracts to join LIV Golf. The new scheme promises a limited, shortened schedule that gives golfers more flexibility, and hosts no-shortcut tournaments where each player is guaranteed a hefty purse.
But every player who took part in the first LIV Golf event outside of London earlier this month has been banned from the PGA Tour, and future participants in upcoming LIV Golf tournaments will be treated the same.
Koepka’s decision is not surprising – he telegraphed it disparaging press conference last week at the US Open outside of Boston, but this is another win for LIV Golf in the fight for prestige against the acclaimed PGA Tour. Abraham Anser of Mexico, 31 and ranked 20th in the men’s world rankings, also took part in the LIV Golf series on Tuesday.
Kepka, 32, who won four major championships between 2017 and 2019, has been hurt and struggling for years. His world ranking dropped to 1st place. 19 this week from No. 1 in 2019. Ironically, Koepka joins LIV Golf about 10 days after DeChambeau, his longtime antagonist, changed his allegiance. DeChambeau was also plagued by health issues. DeChambeau was once regarded as a strong, game-changing phenomenon who captivated young fans with his daring shirtless length. Now DeChambeau has dropped from fourth place in the rankings to 30th. He was a minor player at the US Open last week, finishing 56th. Koepka missed out on the Masters Tournament this year and finished outside the top 50 at the PGA Championship last month and the US Open last week.
But Koepka’s exit nonetheless provides another noteworthy windfall for LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the State Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Just six weeks ago, there was near-universal solidarity among PGA Tour players.
Every change of mind sends a little shudder into the close-knit community of PGA Tour players and makes sense. Fear of being left behind can run through a group like any other, especially when players keep breaking their word. Their colleagues might be wondering: should I jump ship now, before it’s too late and the best contracts with LIV Golf have run out?
Some perspective is needed. A large majority of the top young players have remained loyal to the PGA Tour. Scotty Sheffler, Rory McIlroy, John Ram Colleen Morikawa and Justin Thomas, ranked first through fifth, reaffirm their commitment to the weekly PGA Tour. Morikawa did it again on Tuesday when he tweeted: “For the record, I state once again that you are all absolutely wrong. Since February at the Riviera, I’ve been saying I’m staying on the PGA Tour and nothing has changed.”
But it’s easy to wonder how many more new faces could be on the field by June 30, when the LIV Golf first hits the United States. The full list of participants is expected this week.
How many will be on the course when the new tour arrives at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ on July 29? This tournament will be held after the British Open in mid-July, the last major men’s golf championship of the year.
What is known is that pressure continues to mount on the PGA Tour to respond to the real threat posed by the LIV Golf. And Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, has come up with a plan to at least partly appease players who are attracted to shorter schedules and bigger payoffs. (Hint: this is very similar to the LIV Golf schedule and prize money.)
Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
New series. New LIV Golf series financed by Saudi Arabia and causing controversy held its first event in June. But what is it? Who plays? What is the hype and how can you watch it? Here’s what you need to know:
At Tuesday’s player meeting, according to several in attendance, Monahan outlined a significantly revised PGA Tour schedule for next year, which will include eight limited-entry and no-cut events, as well as at least $20 million in purse increases for The top 50 players from this year’s FedEx Cup standings. People spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to disclose the details discussed.
LIV Golf players will obviously be excluded. PGA Tour payouts vary widely this year, but will average around $8.5 million.
The tour is also planning a shortened season, which will give players more free time during the fall months, when tournaments expanded significantly in 2013-14. This increase was unpopular with many players.
The PGA Tour’s latest offering could stem the tide of rebels leaving their once-peaceful nest. Or the tour could absorb the loss of some players, and with all the corporate sponsorship and tradition it has at its core, thrive with the majority of golfers remaining. It still contains the most profitable cards, not the least of which is that the LIV Golf circuit still has no contract with mainstream television for his activities. It is virtually impossible to be a viable sports entertainment option without it.
Perhaps the two golf tours will coexist, at least for a while. Golf is one of the most unpredictable sports. Perhaps new changes are coming. Nothing is permanent in golf lately.
At a press conference ahead of the US Open last week, Koepka was asked if he had made a “permanent decision” about whether he would compete in the LIV Golf series.
He replied, “Last week. That’s all. “