Brooks Koepka’s US PGA Championship win raises awkward Ryder Cup questions

May 22, 2023  -BBC News –Some major wins are more significant than others and Brooks Koepka’s authoritative triumph in the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill is likely to carry far reaching implications for men’s professional golf.

There can be no doubt that the Floridian’s performance last week emboldens the Saudi Arabia-funded breakaway LIV circuit where he now competes. Koepka has proved you can win majors on a diet of 54-hole 48-man tournaments.

His third PGA title and and fifth major have also put him in prime position for a spot in the US Ryder Cup team, an issue the American captain Zach Johnson has been reluctant to address.

Koepka is now second on the US points list thanks to his Oak Hill success and runner-up finish to Jon Rahm at last month’s the Masters. There is an argument to say he is the best player in the world right now.

He has certainly recovered his extraordinary knack of finding his best form at the biggest tournaments. Koepka has won 14% of the majors he has played, in a quarter of them he has finished in the top three and in half of them he has been top 10.

Those are staggering statistics that compare favourably with Tiger Woods’ career.

The official world rankings have Koepka as the 13th best player and that is an inaccurate reflection of his abilities. Likewise, a resurgent Bryson DeChambeau finished joint fourth and is this week ranked 90th in the world. That is also out of kilter.

In the LIV era, the rankings are rapidly looking out of step with reality. It is becoming an increasingly significant issue and finding a solution is far from easy.

Even allowing for Koepka’s brilliance and the strength of players such as Open champion Cameron Smith and two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, there is not much depth to LIV’s fields compared with the PGA Tour.

It is a cosy, comfortable format with guaranteed money and no cut. The team element can also compromise individual play because a player might lag a putt for team benefit rather than going for it as an individual.

That move might have a minuscule impact on world rankings but it could be the difference between another golfer getting into a major or not.

Whatever their weaknesses and compromised competitive legitimacy, the new tour – that has sent schisms through the game – now possesses in Koepka and Smith two of the four current major title holders.

They are powerful assets and the new PGA champion is an inspired signing, a fact LIV chief Greg Norman was quick to pounce on.

“Congrats BKoepka your comeback has been impressive. I am so proud of you,” the Australian wrote on Twitter.

He added “golf knows” that his players belong in the majors, pointing out there were three LIV golfers in the top 10 and five in the top 20.

Koepka acknowledged his win “is a huge thing and helps LIV” but said he was “more interested in my own self”.

“I’m out here competing as an individual. I’m just happy to take this home for the third time,” he added.

Things might have been different had Koepka not suffered a string of fitness problems from 2019, including horrific damage to his right knee in 2021. “I just slipped. I was at home,” he recently said.

“I dislocated my knee and then I tried to put it back in and that’s when I shattered my kneecap. My leg was sideways and out. My foot was turned out, and then I snapped it back in, because the kneecap had already shattered.”

This time last year he was still in pain and wondered whether he could ever return to previous levels of fitness and physique. Soon after he decided to sign for LIV’s financial security – and what a coup than now looks.

Selling tickets for the next few LIV events in Washington, Spain and England will be somewhat easier with Koepka headlining.

It was thought September’s Ryder Cup would be a LIV free zone but because Koepka remains a member of the PGA of America he can play for the US team in Italy.

That may present a problem with team harmony for Zach Johnson. Last week at Oak Hill he did all he could to dodge awkward questions prompted by Koepka’s form.

“I can’t answer that,” said the US skipper. “I’ll say this: The guys that are on the PGA Tour that make that team, they have direct ownership in that collectively.

“So for me to stand here and say that I would feel comfortable or uncomfortable with it would be irresponsible because it’s not my team.”

A former European captain told me it could be a bad thing for the biennial match if the US leave out the PGA champion. “Imagine if Europe win when its obvious the US team didn’t have their strongest team?” he said.

“That wouldn’t be good for the Ryder Cup would it?”

Koepka’s win undoubtedly adds pressure to the golf establishment while the rest of the world’s players are recognising that there is another behemoth to be beaten.

Significantly, the American proved last Sunday that his mentality is as strong as his physique. He holed a string of crucial putts, not least one on 15 to save par to keep his nose in front under intense pressure from Viktor Hovland.

“I think failure is how you learn,” said Koepka, who claimed he choked away the Masters in April. “You realise what mistakes you’ve made.

“Each time I’ve kind of made an adjustment. It’s more mentality than it is anything. It’s not really golf swing or anything like that.”

It is clear that Masters defeat stung and that a reported $100m (£80.5m) LIV signing on fee offered little balm to his competitive psyche.

“Really, I think the big key is just being open and honest with yourself, and if you can do that, you’ll be miles ahead of everybody else,” Koepka added.

It was an absorbing major that began with frost, endured Saturday’s downpours and fittingly flourished in glorious spring sunshine on the final day.

Koepka bulldozed to hold off a formidable chasing pack. Shooting a three-under-par 67 on the final day for a two-shot triumph was testament to temperament and skill.

Hovland enhanced his major credentials, Scottie Scheffler returned to world number one by finishing joint second with the Norwegian and looked more like the dominant figure who won the Players in March.

Rory McIlroy maxed his return to finish tied seventh at a time when he is patently off colour. Rahm had an off week while Justin Rose’s top 10 showed why he will be an asset to Europe when he returns to the Ryder Cup team later this year.

Before then, though, there are two more majors and an awful lot of back room talking to shape the future of the men’s game. Koepka’s form is already having a big say.

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