LIV Golf stars take victory lap after Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship
STERLING, Va. — Moments after Brooks Koepka won his fifth career major championship on Sunday, he was greeted and congratulated by perhaps the most unlikely foe: Bryson DeChambeau.
For years, the feud between the two men has been one of the juiciest subplots in professional golf. But in recent months, it has emerged that the tenor of their relationship has changed.
“Look, I’m going to give respect where respect is due,” DeChambeau said at a press conference Wednesday when asked why he returned to the 18th green to congratulate Koepka.
“He won five majors and he played better than me that week. And what was sad was that nobody was there to congratulate him afterwards.”
At its core, DeChambeau said, the gesture was simply a matter of respect, though there is important context.
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“He’s a LIV golfer and so am I,” he added. “And obviously that’s part of it.”
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As the Saudi-funded golf league reaches the midpoint of its second campaign this week with an event at the Trump National Golf Club, Kopeka’s PGA Championship win gave all LIV team affiliates a fighting chance. to take a victory lap – even the two men who were once at the center of golf’s most public feud.
While the victory was individually massive for Koepka, making him one of only 20 men to win five or more majors, it also became a rallying cry for LIV Golf. The league has long touted its team-centric 54-hole format. But Koepka’s win, which was the first major title for a LIV golfer, underscored both the foxhole mentality that exists among his players and the tension between them and the rest of the golfing world.
“Look, (Koepka’s win) proves we can play in major championships. It proves the schedule is good enough for us to win major championships,” said DeChambeau, who finished tied for fourth in the PGA Championship.
“Yes, it’s an individual sport, but there’s a team component to it now. And it’s really cool to see how (LIV golfers) play well not just for their teams and for themselves, but for an organization that deserves to be mentioned in a much better light than it is.”
Koepka said on Instagram in February that he and DeChambeau had “crushed” their proverbial beef, in large part because of their mutual interest in LIV. “I actually talk to him quite frequently because of what’s going on here at LIV. About every other day,” Koepka said.
Their interaction on Sunday was the final proof of that, and how the LIV golfers came to view each other’s success as a point of pride.
LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour
Koepka’s win, which gave him a big boost in the world rankings, also reignited many of the LIV vs. PGA Tour debates simmering in the sport. Should LIV golfers like Koepka be eligible to play in the Ryder Cup later this year if they qualify? Should they earn World Ranking Points based on their performance in LIV events, like the one that kicks off on Friday? And do their 54-hole tournaments represent a drop in level of play or preparation?
“I dropped that narrative about six months ago,” fellow LIV golfer Cameron Smith told reporters on Sunday. “We are still there. We haven’t forgotten how to play golf.”
Charles Howell III, a member of DeChambeau’s LIV team, said Wednesday he thinks LIV golfers “still work as hard now or harder” than when they were on the PGA Tour, despite the fact that they played fewer holes per event. He sees LIV’s lighter schedule as an advantage.
“I understand majors historically have 72 holes, but there’s nothing sacred about that number,” Howell said. “Fifty-four holes in a way can be a bit more pressure, in that it’s condensed and you can’t really afford to have a bad series of nine holes or so”
LIV Golf and its players have drawn widespread criticism over the past 18 months as the league – which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – has used eight- and nine-figure contract offers to lure several marquee names from the PGA Tour, creating a schism in the sport that has since spilled over into federal court.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including politically motivated killings, torture, enforced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. And members of the Saudi royal family and government have been accused of involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
LIV Golf has also drawn some anger in the political space for frequenting courses owned by former President Donald Trump; This weekend’s event at Trump National is the first of three tournaments to be held at Trump properties this year.
DeChambeau, 29, is one of LIV’s best-known players, alongside Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Koepka. When he took the start on Saturday at the PGA Championship, he was greeted with loud boos, apparently in relation to his role with LIV.
He smiled on Wednesday when asked about the boos, in the context of a larger issue: all the acrimony he received for joining LIV Golf, the questions about his ethics given the ties of the league with Saudi Arabia – was it worth it?
“When you talk about ethics, that’s people’s perception. I don’t agree with that at all, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he said. “Was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s been beyond my dreams, what I could have imagined it would become. And it’s only getting better. I think over time, like many have said, you will see what good and what positive impact we have.”
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Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.