Brooks Koepka and Abraham Ancer are the latest PGA Tour golfers to be making the switch to LIV Golf. There could be more defects from the PGA Tour this week before the LIV Golf tees it up next week for its second event in Portland, Ore. Both Koepka and Ancer are ranked inside the top 20 golfers in the world and Koepka has won four major titles. They join Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau who also left the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour and its commissioner Jay Monahan held a players-only meeting on Tuesday before the Travelers Championship. According to multiple reports, the meeting generated more questions than answers, but Monahan outlined a new system that will see the Top 50 golfers play in limited-field events with guaranteed purses of $20 million or more. Any golfers outside of the Top 50 will play in an alternate series to try to gain promotion to the Top 50.
LIV Golf also applied for Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) points on Monday. If LIV Golf is unable to give golfers OWGR points to its golfers because of the 54-hole format and limited fields, it could be difficult for golfers to qualify for the major golf tournaments if they don’t already own exemptions into those tournaments. Closing off access to the major tournaments is one way the PGA Tour plans on keeping its strength as the No. 1 golf tour.
Are you surprised at all by Brooks Koepka’s defect?
John Hayes: No. Of course Brooks is going to LIV golf. He grinded on the Challenge Tour to get to the European Tour and earned his PGA card through a top-five finish at the US Open. Koepka has never been a PGA Tour player like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.
Brody Miller: We’re talking about the guy whose entire identity has been about making clear that he doesn’t really like golf all that much but likes winning majors and making money, essentially. So while there was a part of me thinking his personality style would scoff at this hoopla, it’s not a surprise Koepka would take the chance to play less golf for ten tuple the amount of money and (maybe) still play majors.
Josh Kendall: The only surprise is that he didn’t show up to the US Open with a LIV tattoo. This tour is the perfect fit for Koepka. His brother Chase, who most of the world didn’t know was a professional golfer until last week, joined the Saudis in the opening wave. Brooks’ social media presence is a testament to the fact that he’s got plenty of interests outside of golf. Plus he’s always seemed like he was doing the world a favor by playing any event that’s not a major. Now he can make more money playing less golf, help prop up his brother’s career and, apparently, still play in the majors.
Aaron Suttles: No, but it makes his sanctimonious presser at the US Open even more gross. This is not surprising. Brooks has been telling everyone for a while that he doesn’t really love golf all that much. It’s purely a job for him. There’s no romanticism for him in it. That’s sad because he’s immensely talented. And to a guy that this is only a job, of course he was going to jump at the money. It definitely hurts the tour to lose a four-time major winner in the prime of his career.
Joe Vardon: A little. Look, I know it’s about the Amtrak train full of money the Saudis are throwing at these guys, but there was a part of me who thought Bryson DeChambeau was leaving not just for the cash, but to get as far away from Brooksie as he could . DeChambeau is not well liked among his peers on Tour, so, I thought, he was taking his driver and going elsewhere. It was as though Koepka had won their little feud. I don’t think there is such a thing as “beating them AND joining them.” I hope Koepka remembers that the next time he opens his mouth about his new LIV mate.
Is the PGA Tour in trouble? Scale of 1 to 10.
Hayes: 7. The PGA Tour underestimated the global market for golf. This is all about money, nothing more and nothing less. Unless the PGA Tour has a secret stash of cash somewhere they are in trouble.
Miller: 8. Yeah, I’m confident the “legacy” golfers who have the luxury of worrying more about glory and career like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth won’t go, among others. But as payments come in and mid-range PGA Tour players keep seeing the Charl Schwartzels of the world — that they can beat — bring in massive paydays, and the longer that happens the more it’ll be tough to say no. And with each person that goes, the more normalized it slowly but surely becomes. Remember, LIV doesn’t have to make a return. They can take their time. Yes, the PGA Tour can make changes and try to fix this. Of course it can, but there’s a scenario where half the top PGA Tour players are with LIV by next year.
Kendall: Short term 4. Long term 9. For all the noise the LIV tour is making right now, it doesn’t feel like it will sustain because what exactly is the Saudi government getting out of it? They aren’t washing anything right now. Instead, they have an uncompetitive product staffed by mostly surly “ambassadors” and have no TV deal. The LIV tour is not the future of golf. However, the PGA Tour’s ham-handed response to all of this leaves the door open for a less controversial rival league to come in a few years and pick up all the pieces.
Suttles: 8. It’s a problem. A big one. But it can be handled. I don’t think LIV has long-term sustainability. Maybe I’m wrong, but it certainly doesn’t feel like anything more than a hit-and-giggle corporate event. But the tour has to handle it with urgency. Because if not, it gives LIV a chance at long-term viability. You can only play into the “legacy” argument so much. You have to give the guys on the fence a reason to stay. That’s their job to figure out how.
Vardon: The PGA Tour as we know it is in trouble, yes. It will have to evolve. These suspensions and bans aren’t going to last. There was a fascinating thread on Twitter recently, I believe from an ESPN golf scribe, who was talking about the PGA’s tax exempt status, which limits the kind of money it can raise for payouts (it’s way more complicated than that – but that’s the gist ). So as the lure of the big purses grows stronger, and a truly, truly big name (I mean, beyond Brooks and Bryson and DJ, and, I suppose, the 2021 PGA champion) defects, the PGA will have to change. Oh, shoot, you wanted a number. The danger is enough to force change, so, 8? 9?
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan met with players on Tuesday before the Travelers Championship this weekend. What is your best idea for the PGA Tour to keep golfers from defecting (besides throwing boatloads of cash at them)?
Hayes: Limit players’ pro-am responsibilities. Reduce the number of events required to keep a PGA Tour card. Shrink the field size and pay winners more money. Hold more no-cut events like the Sentry Tournament of Champions where everyone gets paid. There are so many ways to make the PGA Tour experience better for the top players in the world.
Kendall: Stress the competition publicly while limiting it actually. John is right on with all his suggestions. The LIV’s biggest selling point is – More Money, Less Golf. The PGA Tour needs to move closer to that, while still selling itself as the only true home of competitive golf.
Suttles: Give them more flexibility on their schedules. I know that they’re independent contractors and make their own schedules, but with FedEx standings, majors, etc., some feel they don’t have enough time away from the game.
Vardon: Of everyone here, I am the furthest from the ropes, mostly watching this beloved sport from afar while covering basketball – where these men of the highest integrity play for peanuts. There are some true PGA ambassadors, like Rory and JT, and Jordan. Tiger, of course, though he’s probably more of an emeritus at this point. Scheffler, obviously. Berger. The list goes on. I would ask them all – other than prize money, which we are working on, what is it that you would like the Tour to change? And then I would change everything they said to change. It would work for a while, until the money becomes too much.
Predict what the majors will do in 2023
Hayes: Are the majors really major without the best fields in the game? No. The majors need the LIV players as much as the LIV players need the majors. My expectation is that all four majors will allow these guys to tee it up if they meet the qualification criteria.
Miller: My assumption is, after all the dust settles, they all let the LIV players in. The more players that join the harder it will be to take the hard stance some might be considering. The USGA bought itself a year with its stance, so it will follow what the rest do. The Open Championship isn’t going to say no. The Masters is really the only hope to turn the tide, and if they ban them, I bet the USGA follows.
Kendall: I think we’re just waiting to hear from ANGC chairman Fred Ridley at this point right? If there’s a trump card left that can turn the momentum back toward the PGA Tour, it’s in the hands of the green jackets. If the LIV guys can still get into the Masters and The Open, they can probably live with that even if the PGA and USGA change the rules to make The US Open and PGA Championship longshots for the LIV guys. If Augusta National closes the door, that changes things.
Suttles: I don’t think anything changes, and I don’t think anything should change. The majors aren’t the majors without the best in the game.
Vardon: The rules for eligibility now are the rules for eligibility next year. I don’t think the majors will be in a position to punish LIV defectors.
Are you more likely to watch the LIV event in Portland next week than you were a month ago?
Hayes: Yes. Every time a player from the OWGR top 50 commits to LIV the next event becomes more intriguing. The ability to watch the event on YouTube makes it easy and Portland offers something fans love: primetime golf.
Miller: No. Even aside from personal reservations, it’s just not a product I enjoy. I watch more golf than any self-respecting human should, but the format sucks out so much of what I love about golf. I have almost no interest.
Kendall: No. So far, no one who has gone has acted as if he gives a hoot about actually playing competitive golf. It would kind of feel like watching the Pro Bowl. They don’t give a crap. Why should I?
Suttles: Yes. I watched the first one. But it didn’t hold my attention after the curiosity wore off. But as the fields get better, I’ll keep watching.
Vardon: No. I’m with Rory (until he bolts)…But seriously, no. I do have two friends who are as obsessed with golf as I am, and they were already watching LIV. And of course they watched every shot of the US Open, too. And they’ll watch the Travelers. And the British. People love golf. If there are two tours worth watching, they’ll watch. If the XFL or USFL, or whatever, drew Justin Herbert and Odell Beckham Jr., those leagues would be playing on Sundays in the fall, too.
(Photo of Brooks Koepka: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)