'LIV Saudi Golf League is not that, it's an irrational threat' - golf's civil war escalates after Brooks Koepka announcement

Golf’s civil war has escalated after Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed LIV Golf announced four-time major winner Brooks Koepka as its latest signing at the same time as PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was outlining his battle plans.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addresses the media during a press conference prior to the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. Picture: Michael Reaves/Getty Images.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addresses the media during a press conference prior to the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. Picture: Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

Speaking at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, Monahan was just six minutes into his press conference when LIV Golf issued a press release stating that former world No 1 Koepka had officially signed up for the breakaway circuit ahead of next week’s second event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf in Oregon.

The double US Open and PGA champion joins fellow major winners Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed in boosting LIV Golf’s roster since Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were the headliners for the inaugural event at Centurion Club near St Albans a fortnight ago.

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“There’s no understating the impact that Brooks Koepka has had on the game of golf in the last five years,” said Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO and commissioner. “He carries a championship pedigree and record of success as one of the most elite players in the world.

Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler played together in last week's US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Picture: Rob Carr/Getty Images.
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“The addition of Brooks is yet another example of the incredible fields LIV Golf is assembling as we build momentum in our first season and look towards the future.”

Speaking before the news was confirmed, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler both expressed disappointment about Koepka becoming the latest player to do a U-turn after earlier pledging fealty to the PGA Tour.

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“Yes, because of what he said previously,” said McIlroy in reply to being asked if he was surprised by Koepka’s decision. “I think that's why I'm surprised at a lot of these guys because they say one thing and then they do another.

“I don't understand that and I don't know if that's for legal reasons. But it's pretty duplicitous on their part to say one thing and then do another thing.”

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Asked if he was talking about something Koepka said two years ago or a week ago, the Northern Irishman added: “The whole way through – in public and private, all of it.”

Even though the pair are part of the same management team, Scheffler said he’d also been blind-sided by Koepka. “That was definitely a surprise for me,” said the Masters champion of a move that will see Koepka suspended by the PGA Tour in a move that has already been taken with other LIV Golf recruits. “I was at a function with him last week and definitely wasn't what he had in mind.

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“We were focused on building the PGA Tour and getting the guys that are staying here together and kind of just having talks and figuring out how we can help benefit the tour.”

Earlier in the day, the R&A announced that LIV Golf players will be allowed to tee up in next month’s 150th Open at St Andrews, as was the case in last week’s US Open, which is run by the USGA.

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“The Open is golf’s original championship and since it was first played in 1860, openness has been fundamental to its ethos and unique appeal,” said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

“Players who are exempt or have earned a place through qualifying for The 150th Open in accordance with the entry terms and conditions will be able to compete in the championship at St Andrews.

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“We are focused on staging a world-class championship in July and celebrating this truly historic occasion for golf. We will invest the proceeds of The Open, as we always do, for the benefit of golf which reflects our purpose to ensure that the sport is thriving 50 years from now.”

While the game’s governing bodies have effectively opted to be in ‘No Man’s Land’ for the time being, the war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is now real, with Monahan having outlined how his circuit plans to combat the rival tour.

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Prize funds in the PGA Tour’s biggest events are to increase by around $45 million, with a new three-event International Series around the world featuring the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup.

“I am not naive,” declared Monahan. “If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can't compete. The PGA Tour, an American institution, can't compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.

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“We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It's an irrational threat; one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.

“We don't expect to overcome this current challenge by relying on our legacy and track record alone. We've been on a path for a number of years to strengthen and evolve our product for the benefit of our fans and players alike.

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“Those plans are obviously accelerated in light of the current environment and we have some exciting developments coming out of yesterday's policy board meeting that will further secure our status as the preeminent golf tour in the world.”

Through a strategic alliance struck in November 2020, next month’s Genesis Scottish Open in East Lothian is being co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and PGA Tour for the first time.

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An announcement is set to be made on Thursday by DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley about whether or not LIV Golf players will be allowed to compete in the $8m Rolex Series event.

But, despite rumours to the contrary, it doesn’t seem as though Pelley is about to allow his circuit to become an ally of Norman and his Saudi Arabian backers.

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“A number of our partners have stepped in to support the DP World Tour and get behind it,” said Monahan. “I expect more of that to come, and we're working on some things that are really exciting out into the future.”

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