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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Brooks Koepka is Back. How Will It Affect LIV Golf vs. the PGA Tour?

  • Koepka earned less for winning PGA Championship than a LIV Orlando event.
  • Is there a potential made-for-TV LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour event?
LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour.
Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports
STERLING, VA — It finally happened.

For the first time since the LIV Golf League burst onto the scene, one of its active players won a major championship when Brooks Koepka held off the field on Sunday to capture his third PGA Championship and fifth major in his career. It follows a second-place finish at the Masters in April.

While the offshoot golf league boasts a roster of several major winners — including reigning Champion Golfer of the Year Cameron Smith — one of them beating PGA Tour players head-to-head for a major title could be a turning point in the rivalry and a boon for LIV, which has struggled to gain relevance in the American mainstream.

But in reality, will Koepka’s big win actually change the landscape of golf in any significant way?

Wear and Tear

One of the central selling points of LIV Golf was the ability to play less golf for more money, much of which is guaranteed regardless of results.

Case in point, the $3.15 million Koepka won at Oak Hill pales in comparison to the $4 million he won individually at the LIV Golf Orlando event in April — and is a drop in the bucket of the reported $72 million he earned between May 2022 and May 2023.

As it stands, LIV players are only committing to 14 events per season, and major-eligible players compete in only 18 events per year. LIV’s current stretch of two tournaments sandwiching the PGA Championship might be the only time its golfers play three events in a row all year.

By comparison, Scottie Scheffler — last season’s PGA Tour money leader — played 27 events, including the unofficial Hero World Challenge and the 2021 Ryder Cup (more on that later).

LIV players are, in theory, better rested physically and mentally for the majors — a “fact” that LIV Golf posterboy Phil Mickelson gloated about online following Koepka’s triumph.

Koepka consistently struggled to stay healthy on the Tour, costing him his full playing ability up until he finally jumped ship to LIV in 2022; he cited injuries as one of his reasons for taking the plunge.

Now, with less wear and tear on his body and without the pressure of an unguaranteed paycheck, the Koepka that won four majors in two years from 2017 to 2019 could be back — which could be seen as unfair to the PGA Tour players grinding away week after week.

However, there are two equalizers at play: the Official World Golf Rankings and the Ryder Cup.

To this point, LIV Golf has not been recognized by OWGR and its players cannot accrue points for the rankings at LIV events.

Koepka, Smith, and other LIV players who have won majors in the last few years will get exemptions to play in the rest of the tournaments.

But Talor Gooch — who has won two LIV events this season and is its current money leader ($10.3M) — is almost certainly going to miss out on the upcoming U.S. Open because he won’t have enough OWGR points to qualify (and because of a slight change to the event’s qualifying rules).

The lack of PGA Tour playing time would also prevent LIV players from automatically qualifying for the coveted Ryder Cup teams.

Players earn points based on money earned at PGA Tour and DP World Tour events and majors; the top six American players in their standings after Aug. 20 automatically qualify, and the top three European players from respective European and World points lists after Sept. 3 automatically qualify.

Players who don’t automatically qualify will rely on the grace of American captain Zach Johnson and European captain Luke Donald to pick them; both have been non-committal on whether they’ll take LIV Players.

Koepka did himself a massive favor in terms of the Ryder Cup, as his runner-up and win in the last two majors sprung him into second place in the U.S. team rankings behind Scheffler. Assuming he can hold onto a top-six spot, it’s possible he ends up as the only LIV player on either team.

What’s Next?

Fair or not, Koepka’s win conceivably begins a new era in the LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour feud — one that the former has theoretically fallen behind on given its poor television viewership on the CW Network.

There’s probably hope among LIV executives that the 33-year-old’s victory will bolster those ratings at this weekend’s event in Washington, D.C. and beyond — but they shouldn’t hold their breath: The final round at the PGA Championship with Koepka in the lead drew just 4.517 million viewers, the lowest total since 2008. 

It’s certainly not encouraging for a potential standalone LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour event, unlikely as it may be to happen anyway: Sources tell Front Office Sports that LIV is open to the idea, but the Tour is not.

“I have no idea,” Sergio Garcia said Thursday when FOS asked about a combined event. “I mean, I don’t know what the PGA Tour is thinking. I don’t belong to that tour, so I don’t know what they’re thinking about, and I don’t really lose any time thinking about it.

“I think at the end of the day, I’m speaking for myself, but I think I probably speak for all of us here. We love playing golf. We love playing majors. We all try to do everything we can to play as many as we can and win as many as we can.”

Koepka missed his media availability — and the Pro-Am at Trump National in Sterling, Va. — with what LIV described as “flight issues” on Thursday. 

But when he teed off for the first round of the tournament Friday, it was with a slightly higher sense of validation for his offshoot golf league — even if the popularity isn’t necessarily following.

“To have another three guys in the top 10 at the PGA and one of them winning with Brooks, I think it shows that we are all putting in a lot of work here, that no one gives you anything for free, regardless of some of the things they said when we all decided to come and join and support LIV,” Garcia said.

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