GOLF

The Saudis have found the price of Brooks Koepka. What will they get?

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CROMWELL, Conn. — Somewhere in the past few days — since telling friends he was adamant about the LIV Golf series — Brooks Koepka found a metaphorical horse’s head in his bed, an offer he didn’t Couldn’t refuse Saudi Arabian enthusiasts from dismemberment behind the breakaway circuit. Given that Koepka doesn’t willingly suffer fools and vocally despises high-profile LIV Golf figures – Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Saudi Golf CEO Majed Al Sorour – we have to assume the offer was high enough that he sleeps soundly.

For those familiar with Koepka, a brief moment at last week’s US Open offered early and irrefutable proof that he had set his sights on LIV Golf. He approached Mickelson on the beach to offer him a punch and exchange a few words. It won’t be the only time he finds himself doing something that until very recently would have been deemed distasteful. Saudis expect loyalty from team members, whether they are golfers or killer squads in faraway consulates.

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Besides now having to work at the disposal of people he doesn’t like (to be fair), the decision to join LIV Golf represents a humiliation for Koepka, even if he will be loath to admit it. He’s always imagined himself more of an athlete than a golfer, but it’s an admission that he’s neither, that he’s just an entertainer dedicated to playing exhibitions against veterans. stranded and nameless youngsters he long considered unfit to sniff his jockstrap. .

There’s a reason behind this tacit acknowledgment: Koepka’s body has been deteriorating for years and a nagging injury brings him dangerously close to surgery and a long layoff. He may have committed to the Saudis, but they will be lucky to see him fulfill it.

There is an obvious trend among players going to LIV Golf, beyond the obvious thirst for money. In almost any case, their long-term ability to consistently compete with the world’s best on the PGA Tour is questionable, whether based on physical longevity (Koepka, DeChambeau), decrepitude (Mickelson, Westwood, Poulter ), diminished skills (McDowell, Kaymer) or apathy (Johnson, who prefers to fish). They are stars emeritus, their best road accident rendered a few kilometers ago by younger, healthier and more powerful competition. Any suggestion that he belongs to their ranks will hurt a prideful man like Koepka, but it’s true.

Competitive relevance is one of the most predictable aspects of this story, along with theoretically reputable media galloping out the door with fine-source rumors, mindlessly helping the Saudis create a narrative that the momentum has turned inexorably towards. them. There are also other emerging trends worth noting.

The purchase of critical voices, for example. It goes back to Paul Casey. As a UNICEF ambassador, he missed the first Saudi international tournament in 2019 as an act of conscience. The following year, Casey had been sufficiently compensated to explain his presence as an act of commitment. It continues today. Pat Perez publicly gunned down LIV Golf months ago — not least because of his notorious dislike of Mickelson — but he, too, was bought off.

And finally, Koepka, who had several terse exchanges with Saudi officials when rejecting their advances in 2021. Eventually, they also found his price.

Another obvious trend is the heatmap of player management agencies. Take GSE Worldwide, which has shelled out millions of dollars in fees for funneling its clients into the Saudi rat trap – DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, with many more of their assets among rumors and imminent. And if you want proof that Jay Monahan can’t take a break: one GSE client who didn’t transfer to the Saudis is Grayson Murray.

Sentiment on the lineup at TPC River Highlands after Tuesday’s players meeting was mixed. There have been expressions of support for Monahan and faith in the changes he is proposing, even from companions who will have to scrape harder for their crust. But that was tempered by irritation that he hasn’t been out in public often enough to hit out at Saudis. This is a criticism that goes both ways. Monahan told the players they also needed to get out of the fence and fight for their Tour.

The reunion had two thought-provoking moments for some of the reunited players whose peripheral consciousness may not be where it should be. Monahan was asked who would pay the lawyers if and when the suspended Saudi-linked players or their benefactors plead. You will, came the answer. The commissioner explained that the Tour is an association, a collective of members, and that a lawsuit brought by a player against the Tour is a lawsuit brought against (and defended by) all players.

He was also pressed on the actions taken by major championships, each hosted by an organization that Monahan does not control. It’s a tricky question given the fear of legal exposure if the majors are seen as helping the Tour shut out a competitor, but the answer was simple: nothing, yet. It was a reminder of the important role that will ultimately fall to the majors. One side wants them to act, the other is counting on them to do nothing. Players on both sides, however, insist the majors cannot present a credible field without their backing.

Even before Monahan gathered its members Tuesday morning in Connecticut and asked them to make their voices heard, a small group of high-level players were talking about taking an unequivocal public and united position against LIV Golf and in favor of the PGA Tour.

Until this week, that group included Brooks Koepka.

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