GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — The three letters Brooks Koepka represents this week in the Ryder Cup are USA.
Koepka stands out for many reasons on golf’s biggest stages, mainly because he wins at so many of them as a five-time major champion. The obvious reason at Marco Simone is being the only player from Saudi-funded LIV Golf League who made it back to the ultimate team event.
“I didn’t notice,” Koepka said sardonically when this was brought to his attention.
It wasn’t a problem for U.S. captain Zach Johnson, who used one of his six wild-card selections on Koepka. “An easy pick,” Johnson said.
It’s not a problem for the rest of the American team. Koepka lives near four of them in Florida, shares an agent with Scottie Scheffler and has remained friendly with everyone.
Just don’t get the idea Koepka is carrying the flag for LIV Golf.
“I feel like I’m representing the USA. That’s what I’ve got on the front of my hat this week, so that’s what I’m representing,” Koepka said. “It’s not a group of individuals in that locker room. We’re just all one team, and that’s the way we think. That’s what I believe, and I’m pretty sure everybody else there thinks that.”
Twelve members from the last Ryder Cup — that includes vice captains — wound up signing with LIV Golf. So why is Koepka the only one at Marco Simone? He can only speak for the Americans, and typical of Koepka, he didn’t need many words.
“Play better,” he said.
That was a subtle message to the rest of the Americans with LIV — notably Bryson DeChambeau — that everyone had a path back, no matter how difficult.
The PGA of America kept the door open for LIV players in the Ryder Cup. But the points are based on official money at the PGA Tour, which suspended all LIV players. The only access were the majors. DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson were eligible for all the majors, just like Koepka was.
He was runner-up at the Masters and won the PGA Championship. That was nearly enough to make the team on points. Koepka finished just outside the top six, and became an obvious pick.
“He’s built in my mind for the biggest stages,” Johnson said when picking Koepka.
DeChambeau won his second LIV Golf event last week in the Chicago area and argued more players from the rival league should have been considered. DeChambeau won his first LIV event at the Greenbrier with a 58 in the final round.
Johnson said he didn’t look much farther down the Ryder Cup standings than about No. 25. The other LIV players were nowhere to be found. DeChambeau felt he at least should have been called by Johnson to say he was considered but not chosen.
“There’s numerous people that I think Zach should have called out here, and we didn’t get that,” DeChambeau said after he won. “I understand. I get it. But we’re nothing different. We’re still competing. We’re still working super hard to be the best we possibly can be. Brooks is obviously going to kill it for Team USA, and excited for team. But yeah, it definitely does sting a little bit.”
Dustin Johnson last time became only the second player to go 5-0 in the modern format. He is still regarded as one of golf’s biggest talents. He thinks he could have contributed to Team USA at Marco Simone.
“I would love to be a part of the team,” Johnson told the Palm Beach Post. “But to be honest, I haven’t really played that well, this year. … Especially not being on the tour, I needed to play really well.”
That’s what Koepka did, and he said others had the same chance.
“I don’t make the decisions,” Koepka said. “Everybody had an opportunity to get there. I had the same opportunity as every other LIV player, and I’m here. Play better. That’s always the answer.”
Koepka referred to this American team as one of the tightest units in his three Ryder Cups, most players having competed against each other since they were teenagers. He loves this atmosphere. He loves the hang.
He ostensibly gets that at LIV as captain of Team Smash. But then, he made headlines earlier this year by ripping into Matthew Wolff, one of his teammates. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Koepka suggested Wolff quits on his rounds and questioned his work ethic.
So maybe there’s not quite the level of team bonding found at a Ryder Cup.
Koepka was in no mood for comparisons. He plays for LIV Golf 14 weeks out of the year. He plays in the four majors. This week is all about the Ryder Cup and Team USA.
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