Since March, Brooks Koepka has emphatically denied he would consider joining the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
“Money isn’t going to change my life,” Koepka said at the time with a disdainful sneer. As recently as two weeks ago, Koepka was still telling fellow players he was not interested in leaving the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, he defected to the rival LIV Golf circuit, which will hold its second event, outside Portland, Ore., starting on June 30.
What changed for Koepka? It would be easy to say there were most likely more than 100 million reasons for him to reverse course since other former PGA Tour players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have reportedly received nine-figure contracts to align with LIV Golf. The new circuit promises a limited, shortened schedule that gives golfers more flexibility and hosts no-cut tournaments in which every player is guaranteed a hefty payday.
But every player who entered the inaugural LIV Golf event outside London earlier this month was suspended by the PGA Tour, and future entrants to upcoming LIV Golf tournaments will be treated similarly.
Koepka’s decision is not a surprise — he telegraphed it with a scornful news conference at last week’s U.S. Open outside Boston — but it is another victory for LIV Golf in its fight for credibility against the established PGA Tour. Abraham Ancer of Mexico, who is 31 years old and ranked 20th in the men’s world rankings, also committed to the LIV Golf series on Tuesday.
Koepka, 32, who won four major championships between 2017 and 2019, has been injured and struggling for years. His world ranking has slipped to No. 19 this week from No. 1 in 2019. In a bit of irony, Koepka is joining LIV Golf about 10 days after DeChambeau, his longtime antagonist, switched his allegiance. DeChambeau has also been dogged by health issues. Once viewed as a hard-swinging, bulked up game-changing phenomenon who captivated younger fans with his audacious length off the tee, DeChambeau has tumbled from fourth in the rankings to 30th. He was an afterthought at last week’s U.S. Open, finishing tied for 56th. Koepka missed the cut at this year’s Masters Tournament and finished outside the top 50 at last month’s P.G.A. Championship and at last week’s U.S. Open.
But Koepka’s exit nonetheless provides another noteworthy bit of unexpected momentum for LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Only six weeks ago, there was nearly universal solidarity among the PGA Tour’s player ranks.
Each reversal of opinion sends little tremors through the close-knit community of PGA Tour players and has meaning. A fear of getting left behind can pervade the group, as with any other, especially when players keep going back on their word. Their colleagues may ponder: Should I jump ship now, before it’s too late and the top LIV Golf contracts are gone?
Some perspective is necessary. A considerable majority of the best young players have remained loyal to the PGA Tour. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas — ranked first through fifth — affirm their commitment to the PGA Tour weekly. Morikawa did it again Tuesday when he tweeted: “To state for the record, once again, you all are absolutely wrong. I’ve said it since February at Riviera that I’m here to stay on the PGA Tour and nothing has changed.”
But it is easy to wonder how many more new faces there might be in the field by June 30, when LIV Golf makes its first appearance in the United States. The full list of entrants is expected this week.
How many will be in the field when the upstart tour arrives at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 29? That tournament will be held after the mid-July British Open, the last of this year’s major men’s golf championships.
What is known is that the pressure continues to ramp up on the PGA Tour to respond to the credible threat LIV Golf is posing. And Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, has the framework of a plan to at least partially appease players attracted to a shorter schedule and greater earnings. (Hint: It looks an awful lot like the LIV Golf schedule and prize money.)
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
A new series. The new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what is it? Who is playing it? What’s all the hubbub, and how can you watch it? Here’s what to know:
What is LIV Golf? The series is an upstart professional golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for nearly a century.
Who is playing it? The 48 players in the initial LIV Golf event were not exactly a who’s who of golf, and many of the biggest names in the sport, such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there were big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.
What is attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The first tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That is on top of the appearance fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
How has the PGA Tour responded to the rise of LIV Golf? The PGA Tour signaled months ago that it would take action against any of its players who joined the new tour after it denied them the releases to participate in other events it requires. On June 9, it suspended the 17 PGA Tour members among the LIV Golf players.
How can I watch the new tour? Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in the United States and will be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. In the United States, this week’s tournament will be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.
In a players’ meeting on Tuesday, according to several people who were in attendance, Monahan outlined a significantly revised PGA Tour schedule for next year that will feature eight events with limited fields and no cuts, and increased purses of at least $20 million for the top 50 players from this year’s season-long FedEx Cup standings. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the details discussed.
LIV Golf players would obviously be excluded. The payouts for this year’s PGA Tour events vary widely, but a median total would be about $8.5 million.
The tour is also planning a contraction of the season that would give players more time off in the fall months, which in 2013-14 had a substantial expansion of tournaments. That increase has been widely unpopular with many players.
The PGA Tour’s latest proposal could stem the tide of rebels leaving its once placid nest. Or, the tour could absorb the loss of some players, and with all the corporate sponsors and tradition it has in its corner, prosper with a majority of golfers who remain. It still holds the most advantageous cards, not the least of which being that the LIV Golf circuit still has no mainstream TV contract for its events. It is virtually impossible to be a viable sports entertainment option without one.
Maybe the two golf tours will coexist, at least for a while. Golf is one of our more unpredictable sports. Perhaps more change is coming. Nothing seems a constant lately in golf.
At his news conference on the eve of the U.S. Open last week, Koepka was asked if he had made a “permanent decision” on whether he will bolt to the LIV Golf series.
He answered: “As of last week. That’s it.”