Organised as part of the build up to this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, the pair put on a united front as they joined Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari in trying their hand at one of China’s biggest sports.
This is the first event that Koepka and Johnson – known as the “Bash Brothers” due to their similar big-hitting styles – have both played in since claims that they were involved in two separate bust-ups around the time of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in France.
With Johnson’s fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, believed to have been at the centre of the row, the first was reported to have taken place as the American team were on a flight from Atlanta to Paris then, according to claims, they clashed again when paying a visit to Europe’s after-match party following a resounding 17½-10½ win for Thomas Bjorn’s team.
Koepka, who took over from Johnson as world No 1 on Sunday after backing up two major wins in the US Open and US PGA Championship this year by claiming the CJ Cup in South Korea, rubbished the claims when he visited Scotland the following week to play in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The pair then appeared in a cringeworthy video together as Koepka received his PGA Tour Player of the Year Award from Johnson, with the promotional stunt outside the Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai ahead of the fourth and final WGC this year providing further proof that any differences appear to have been settled.
Koepka and Johnson are among 14 players from the 42nd Ryder Cup in the field at Sheshan International Golf Club, the others being Rose, McIlroy, Molinari, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Thorbjorn Olesen, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton and Tony Finau.
Molinari won this event in 2010 – his second European Tour triumph coming four years after landing the Italian Open – and now he’s hoping for another strong performance in his bid to back up becoming the Open champion then creating history as the first European to claim five points out of five in a Ryder Cup by finishing the season as the Race to Dubai winner. “When they are not playing well, 90 per cent of the golfers on tour will tell you it’s just around the corner,” the 35-year-old told hsbcgolf.com. “I really believed that, but in reality you never really know. Early in the season I wasn’t playing very well and it was frustrating because I felt I’d improved last year as a player but I wasn’t seeing the scores or the results.
“Winning at Wentworth (the BMW PGA Championship in May) definitely gave me a boost of confidence that carried into the summer. After that I went on to win the Quicken Loans event on the PGA Tour in America (he had a final round of 62 to win by seven strokes) and then it was like a snowball effect leading to the Open at Carnoustie and the Ryder Cup in France. Because of the way I play the game, tough courses suit me. It’s great to be leading the Race to Dubai and I want to try to win in Shanghai to get me closer to finishing the year as the European No 1.
“I’m quite tired after the run I’ve had, so I’ll take the next week off to prepare properly for the final event in Dubai.
“I’ll then have a seven-week break so I can put the clubs away and spend some time with the family at home in London. I haven’t had much time to sit down and reflect on the season so far, but there’s a real sense of achievement.”
Russell Knox, the 2015 winner, is the sole Scot in the field as he bids to try to improve on his current 10th position in the Race to Dubai. He is also playing in Turkey next week.