was not early Brooks Koepka nets his fifth major title The vexing question of his professional integrity once again raised its head. In the cozy confines of the Golf Channel studio, Brad Faxon, among the most soft-spoken figures you could hope to meet in the sport, dished out how a man who won the USPGA three times in six years could also by conventional logic, be a shoo-in for Ryder Cup, He said, ‘They are not playing for money. “They are playing for their country.”
Except for Brendell Chambly, a pundit who has doggedly opposed Koepka’s alignment with LIV golf and all that the Saudi-backed breakup stands for, dismisses the suggestion with scornful contempt. “Aren’t they playing for their tour?” He replied, incredulously. “There is definitely a feeling that the Europeans are playing for their tour.” “They’re playing golf,” Faxon blurts out, before the pair engage in an awkward death stare.
It was a perfect example of the insoluble schism that an injection of vast Saudi money has wrought. On the one hand, you have people who regard LIV as an incredibly corrupt enterprise that corrupts everyone and everything it touches. On the other hand, there are those who support the privilege of having the best golfers as independent contractors, playing whichever tour brings them the greatest financial benefit. And in the middle you have someone like Faxon, who initially expressed disquiet about LIV’s theft of talent, but who now believes the call for Koepka to be Ryder Cup-eligible is wrong.
Faxon’s argument has merit. The PGA of America, under whose auspices the Ryder Cup falls, is unlikely to be too enthused by the idea of Koepka, who has claimed as many majors as Seve Ballesteros and, in less time, this autumn’s competition in Rome Sitting outside, where Zac Johnson’s team are desperate for their first win on European soil for 30 years. It is an occasion that has traditionally been about pitching the best against the best, and where home advantage is very difficult to eliminate because of the sheer force of national pride on display.
The Ryder Cup, as Faxon highlights, is one arena that should have nothing to do with money. He played in 1997, witnessing firsthand the storm of Spanish passion that Ballesteros had generated with Valderrama as captain. Why, when it is determined against this standard, why should Koepka be excluded? He is the most in-form player on the planet, having led both the big teams so far this season. He thrives under maximum pressure, impervious – as he showed so clearly at Oak Hill – to any hostility from the crowd. He has the pedigree to persuade Johnson to make him his first wildcard pick, even though the Official World Golf Ranking lists him only 13th in the standings due to the LIV’s refusal to recognize him.
Still, Chambly won’t hear of it. He sees Koepka as a participant in a nefarious project, a willing pawn for the Saudi regime, which must accept the consequences of such a diabolical deal. At the time of founding LIV, I could empathize with this perspective. After all, the Saudis were not only investing in golf, but attempting to aggressively usurp the entire sport. Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour moved quickly to blacklist the rebels, knowing they needed to protect the integrity of their businesses. But at what point does such a position become doctrinaire, even more idiotic and self-defeating?
With the Koepka situation, you might say the moment has come. Whatever happens from here, the only victim is the Ryder Cup. If he is excluded, the contest loses its right to be celebrated as the ultimate duel in golf. But equally, if any loophole is made for American LIV renegades to participate, the installment in Rome risks being disappointingly one-sided. The Europeans have already tore the spiritual heart of their team to the side Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson indefinitely To chase the Saudi Riyal. If the Americans choose a different path with their galaxy of young stars including Koepka, the imbalance of power could be catastrophic.
It makes sense that DP World Tour took the rebels as hard as they did. Ultimately, Westwood and the others were denied releases to compete in the first two LIV events, but played regardless. Such disobedience was crying out for punishment. But you can’t help but wonder whether by extending this harsh stance to the Ryder Cup, Europeans could shoot themselves in the foot, Should Koepka play, the match at the Marco Polo Club in September begins to look absurdly uneven. It would be a high price to pay for politicizing an event that represents the exact opposite of self-interest. For more than a year, LIV has caused much outrage in golf. And yet some Americans, judging by Faxon’s comments, are beginning to experience a certain outrage fatigue. And if it means giving up free passes to Koepka, it can only play to their advantage.
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