Establishing the precise thoughts of Brooks Koepka is a knotty business. This is the individual who, before last year’s US Open, barked at a line of questioning relating to his potential involvement in the breakaway LIV Tour. No sooner had dust settled on Matt Fitzpatrick’s famous Brookline success than Koepka was unveiled as a LIV recruit. Koepka’s earlier podium protesting identified him as little more than a phony.
Oh to be inside the mind of Koepka now. As Scottie Scheffler returned to No 1 in the world courtesy of a dominant victory at a packed Phoenix Open, focus immediately turned towards Tiger Woods’s appearance at this week’s Genesis Invitational. Koepka had followed up a share of 46th at the Saudi International with a missed cut on the Asian Tour in Oman. He was only spared broad ridicule on the basis that nobody aside from dedicated fans and cheerleaders for Saudi’s dubious stampede into golf actually knew these events were taking place.
If the 32-year-old Koepka is not pondering what on earth he is doing, if he is not the epitome of professional frustration, he damn well should be. All the tainted money in the world cannot offset a slide towards competitive irrelevance. This is a golfer who won four majors from 2017-2019. He was a poster boy, an athlete, a player carrying sufficient chippiness to render him interesting. Nobody had heard of Scottie Scheffler.
Fast forward to 2023 and the indefatigable Woods, now 47, is still speaking of mainstream tournament glory as Koepka features on cringeworthy videos promoting LIV’s team concept. He could play for the Range Goats, Rippers, Smashers, Bashers or Flashers for anybody in the wider world cares (three of those are actually real names). Plans for teams to be backed by multinational companies and thus to at least some extent cover exorbitant costs have failed to come to fruition. This is no shock – golf is not identified as a team sport, it commands no tribal or emotional pull in this context.
There is no sense Koepka regrets his switch to LIV. Of course there isn’t, just as no player involved in that scene – which resumes next week in Mexico – utters even a vaguely critical word about the tour fronted by Greg Norman. Absolute certainty is a LIV staple, at least publicly. This all transpires as executives depart, costs of staging events rise, the official world golf ranking continues to lock out LIV members and a court filing reveals 2022 revenues were “virtually zero”. Any golfer of sane mind should be asking questions, including of their own representatives. The most elaborate of honeymoons may well be hurtling towards messy conclusion. The PGA Tour’s immense focus on star names means high-profile switches to LIV appear over.
Majed al-Sorour, an omnipresent from Bay Hill to the Bahamas as the Saudis were looking to make golf inroads, provides an intriguing case. Sorour remains a board member of Newcastle United. However, he has been recently replaced as the chief executive of Golf Saudi and is no longer a director of Performance54, a British firm basically annexed by the kingdom and now at the forefront of all things LIV. Sorour’s sharp exit from the frontline of something he has been so intrinsically linked to should raise eyebrows. Norman remains in position but he is not regarded by anyone with knowledge of LIV’s inner sanctum as anything more than a figurehead.
Last week, an exhausting sports arbitration case between the DP World Tour and some among its number who skipped to LIV played out in London. The theatre around Rory McIlroy’s Dubai joust with Patrick Reed left onlookers pondering whether it would be a bad thing if rebels are permitted to play in Europe.
Legal matters in the United States look considerably more pertinent. Saudi’s public investment fund and its governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, have been fighting a claim for discovery and deposition in the antitrust case between LIV and the PGA Tour. News on whether or not that has been successful should arrive imminently. Defeat – of sorts – for the PIF and Rumayyan could not only have wider implications for its business interests in the US but add to the theory of “hassle” being created by a golf dalliance which has claimed considerable resource plus waves of negativity. The PGA Tour, a staple of the American corporate world which believes LIV has tried to kill its business, appears to have no cause for settlement.
If this all crashes down, or even if there is a feeling of taking the wrong step, where would this leave Koepka? He started this week as the 78th-ranked golfer in the world, which implies an element of punishment. It also seems highly unlikely the PGA Tour or DP World Tours would completely block the pathway of any player who wished to return to their platform. Yet there would need to be an element of penance, if only to pacify a membership who wouldn’t much care for individuals accepting the petroleum pound before shuffling back to traditional tours. Theirs would be a fascinating negotiation.
In the interests of clarity, it should be pointed out Koepka is actually the captain of Team Smash. “I choose my own schedule regardless what tour I play,” he claimed during that infamous media conference last June. So he “chose” Oman? He can opt out of any LIV competition? Insert your own punchline here.
A website blurb reads: “Smash brings the power – and bundles of it!” Not exactly eye-opening, novel stuff. This feels like a metaphor for what Koepka has been reduced to. It would be an exaggeration to portray the PGA Tour as a perfect environment. It has, though, succeeded in making LIV and its protagonists appear a sporting afterthought as a crucial second season tees off.