Unless Brooks Koepka goes on to win the U.S. Open and British Open — it’s hard to bet against him at this rate — the Masters should be remembered as the most meaningful major this year.
Jon Rahm in a green jacket was special on its own. He is a massive talent.
But what the Masters delivered as the first major of the year was a reminder that golf hasn’t lost its civility outside of headlines, social media and court documents. It was the first time a full roster of defectors to LIV Golf mixed with loyalists to the PGA Tour. Everyone got along just fine, united by the common goal of winning a green jacket.
The PGA Championship was the same.
Why should the Ryder Cup be any different?
The improbable — a LIV player making the Ryder Cup team — became the very possible at Oak Hill when Koepka stamped his legacy as golf’s most dominant player in the major since Tiger Woods by winning the PGA Championship, his fifth major in his last 22 attempts
That moved him to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings.
Whether he can hang on to earn one of the six qualifying spots — he is nearly the equivalent of $2.5 million ahead of Jordan Spieth in the No. 7 slot — almost seems irrelevant.
Zach Johnson gets six captain’s picks. The objective is win on European soil for the first time in 30 years. If the choice came down to Koepka or a first-timer like Sam Burns, Wyndham Clark or Kurt Kitayama, is it even much of a choice?
“It’s tough to be in Zach’s mind or where he is at,” Koepka said earlier in the week. “But I would love to make it hard on him.”
It shouldn’t be that difficult, not when the player in question is someone like Koepka.
Johnson finished his final round at Oak Hill before Koepka teed off with a one-shot lead Sunday. Taking on Ryder Cup speculation at times seemed more difficult for Johnson than anything he faced on the golf course.
The first question was about Koepka’s performance.
“Well, they’re only 54 holes in,” he replied, before changing directions to rave about Oak Hill.
Pressed later on the chemistry of having Koepka or another LIV player on the U.S. team, Johnson said it was “too premature — frankly, irresponsible — to even have any sort of opinion about that.
“Given where we are at right now there’s a lot of points out. You have a bunch of elevated events. If you go back on history, there’s names right now probably on both tours that we’re not even mentioning that could have a chance,” he said.
That much is true. Points are determined by money earned on the PGA Tour, where Koepka can’t play. The tour still has four $20 million tournaments ($3.6 million, or 3,600 points) to the winner. Koepka gets to play only the U.S. Open and British Open, which have slightly smaller purses but count as double.
Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer for the PGA of America, outlined the probabilities in late February when he clarified that any American is eligible for the Ryder Cup team provided he was a PGA of America member (all LIV players meet that criteria).
He also pointed out with the elevated events and the tour having suspended LIV players, they would have to win a major — maybe two — and have a high finish in a couple others.
Koepka was runner-up in the Masters. He won the PGA Championship. And he still has two majors left.
Phil Mickelson also was a runner-up at the Masters. He made the cut on the number at the PGA Championship and tied for 58th. Mickelson was the chief recruiter for the Saudi-funded league and brash as ever when it comes to criticizing golf leadership.
Asked why he was chirping so much, Mickelson replied, “I guess it’s because I know some things that others don’t.” The reference presumably was to antitrust complaints, not stock tips.
Brad Faxon referenced that Sunday evening on Golf Channel when discussing Koepka and his Ryder Cup merits. Koepka, whose move to LIV was the most surprising, is still the same person he always was. He talks when engaged, is blunt, and cares only about winning majors.
“You don’t hear many good words spoken about Phil and Bryson (DeChambeau) and Patrick Reed that they left,” Faxon said. “It was almost like, ‘Let them go.’”
Koepka is different.
No one mentioned Ryder Cup possibilities to Koepka after he won. Odds are his answer would not have been any different than it was five days earlier. Winning takes care of everything, at least when it comes to making the Ryder Cup team. Koepka wants to be in Rome.
His next stop is Trump National outside Washington for another LIV event. The PGA Tour is at Colonial. The top players won’t meet again until next month at Los Angeles Country Club for the U.S. Open, a major fond of saying its aim is to identify the best player in the world.
Majors are not about supremacy of any tour. It’s about bringing together the best to chase after golf’s biggest prizes. The Masters proved that.
The Ryder Cup is no different.
It’s the 12 best from Europe against the 12 best from the United States. It’s hard to imagine now — and probably in three months — Koepka not being part of that.
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