As Koepka Leaves for LIV Golf, the PGA Tour Mulls Changes

Since March, Brooks Koepka has emphatically denied he would be joining the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.

“Money is not 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 have been easy to say there were 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 the upcoming LIV Golf Tournaments will be treated equally.

Koepka’s decision is not a surprise – he telegraphed it with a scornful news conference at last week’s US Open outside Boston – but it is another victory for LIV Golf against its 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 that captivated younger fans with its audacious length of the tee, DeChambeau has tumbled from the fourth to the 30th in the rankings. He was an afterthought at last week’s US 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 PGA Championship and last week’s US Open.

But Koepka’s exit 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 more 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 its meaning. A fear of getting left behind can pervade the group, as with any other, especially when players keep going back to 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. Most of the best young players have been loyal to the PGA Tour. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas – ranked first through fifth – confirmed their commitment to the PGA Tour weekly. Morikawa did it again Tuesday when he tweeted: “To state the record, once again, you are all 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’s easy to wonder how many more new faces 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 the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, 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 a plan of the framework to attract at least partially appease players to a schedule and greater earnings. (Hint: It looks like an awful lot of LIV golf schedule and prize money.)

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 increase purses for at least $ 20 million. 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 will 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 will give players more time off in the fall months, during which 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 some of the loss of players, and with all the corporate sponsors and traditions it has its corner, prosperity 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 a mainstream TV contract for its events. It is virtually impossible to have a viable sports entertainment option without one.

Maybe the two golf tours will be coexist, at least for a while. Golf is one of our more unpredictable sports. Probably more change is coming. Nothing seems to be a constant lately in golf.

At his news conference on the eve of the US Open last week, Koepka asked if he had made a “permanent decision” on whether he would bolt to the LIV Golf Series.

He replied: “As of last week. That ‘s it. “

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