In a normal Ryder Cup year, Brooks Koepka’s place on the U.S. team would be anything but controversial.
Koepka won the PGA Championship, conducted by the same PGA of America that runs the Ryder Cup on the U.S. side. And even though he missed out on one of the top six automatic berths in points, Koepka finished a strong seventh on the points list.
This, of course, is anything but a normal year for the Ryder Cup or for men’s professional golf. Koepka’s participation on the LIV tour means there are those who believe he shouldn’t be allowed a captain’s pick onto the U.S. team that will face Europe in Italy next month. There are others who are adamant that Koepka absolutely deserves a berth on the U.S. team.
That difference of opinion shows that after two years of rhetoric and finger-pointing and more than a year since the LIV tour debuted as a rival to the PGA Tour, emotions and opinions remain divided and even polarized.
It also shows that whatever olive branch extended between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, the money behind the LIV tour, hasn’t exactly soothed some very hard feelings among players and fans. The June announcement of a partnership framework between the PIF and the PGA Tour has yet to produce many hard and firm details about what the PGA Tour might look like in 2024. In fact, there is still talk the partnership will not actually come to fruition.
Somehow, caught in the middle of this are Koepka and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson. Koepka has played just four points-gathering events for the Ryder Cup this year, the four major championships. But a win at the PGA Championship and a tie for second at the Masters garnered Koepka enough points to be in the top six in points for the team. That is until last Sunday at the BMW Championship, when the right players finished just high enough on the leaderboard to push Koepka down to seventh and out of an automatic bid. Koepka, of course, didn’t play in the BMW event and isn’t in the Tour Championship this week.
Had Koepka stayed in the top six, he would have been on the team, no questions asked. Instead, he now requires a captain’s pick from Johnson, who no doubt has thought long and hard about the idea of an LIV player on the U.S. team.
A friend called this week, thinking the captain’s picks had been made, and said, “They didn’t put an LIV player on the Ryder Cup, did they?’” That’s one vote against any LIV player participating.
On the other hand, the PGA of America may have painted itself into a corner it can’t escape. By allowing Koepka and other LIV players who qualified to play in the PGA Championship, the PGA opened up the possibility of an LIV golfer on the Ryder Cup. If Koepka is good enough to play in and win the PGA Championship, how can he be barred from a Ryder Cup berth, the critics ask.
The precedent of LIV golfers being banned from events has been set by the PGA Tour, which technically has nothing to do with the Ryder Cup, and by the DP World Tour. That European tour is saying no LIV players will be on the European team in Italy.
Keeping Koepka off the U.S. team will certainly cause another war of words to break out from those who dislike the PGA Tour’s stance on LIV golfers and who will see such a move as hypocritical by a PGA of America that saw fit to let Koepka play in the PGA Championship. Letting Koepka play for the U.S. team will renew anger among fans (and perhaps a few PGA Tour players) who still see a move to the LIV tour as a betrayal by the former PGA Tour golfers.
We will find out in just a few days which six golfers will join the six automatic qualifiers for the U.S. team. Frankly, it only makes sense for the PGA champion to be on the team, especially since he was allowed to play in that major tournament to begin with. And remember, Koepka is the only LIV player truly under consideration for a Ryder Cup berth.
If he is rightfully on the team, the odds are that will cause the same kind of debate we have seen in the game for two years.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan.