Brooks Koepka gives LIV Golf a shot in the arm with major win

RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Brooks Koepka gives LIV Golf a shot in the arm by winning the US PGA Championship… even on the side of golf’s pariah state his standing in the game has never seemed more secure

  • Brooks Koepka won the US PGA Championship with a terrific performance
  • The American has shown that LIV Golf isn’t just a place for washed up stars
  • His latest major win comes at a time when even he thought his career was over

There’s a tale about Brooks Koepka that goes back a couple of years and could be interpreted in a few ways.

It was recently told to Mail Sport by a prominent figure in golf and related to a time before LIV, when a different breakaway league was making offers to the great and good of the game, with Saudi Arabian money. 

The story goes that those in Koepka’s orbit, apparently, let it be known he was interested, but there was a caveat: his deal had to match whatever was on the table for Rory McIlroy. Not a cent less.

The way our source tells it, this was as much about competitiveness and standing as cash, and folk can make their own minds up on that. By now, we know the alternative venture did not happen, but LIV did, Koepka went, McIlroy most certainly did not, and as of Sunday there has been a sizeable development in the conversations around the best golfer of this generation.

There have been many compelling statistics attached to Koepka’s win at the US PGA Championship but perhaps the best is the one showing only he, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won five or more majors in the past 30 years. 

Brooks Koepka won the US PGA Championship after producing a brilliant performance

The American won his fifth career major at the Oak Hill Country Club over the weekend

On five, Koepka is level with Seve Ballesteros, one behind Nick Faldo, and two shy of Arnold Palmer — these are some truly special rungs on the ladder to greatness and only 14 golfers in history stand higher.

Within that achievement are a number of areas of wonder, and perhaps none is more intriguing than how this American is able to grow in tandem with the scale of an occasion. If we are to go by his touring statistics, he is good without being exceptional — four PGA Tour titles, one on the DP World Tour and two on LIV. 

Framed another way, it is about a quarter of the haul of McIlroy. That Koepka, 33, has been able to burn so hot at precisely the right time — particularly in his astonishing run of four major wins in eight starts from 2017 to 2019 — when his dominance was the most absolute in golf since Woods, is a trait both hard to fathom and easy to under-rate.

The other fascinating aspect in Koepka’s latest win was its proximity to a time when he thought his career was over in its most meaningful sense. From 2019 until 2022, he suffered serious injuries to his wrists, knees and neck, and it was, arguably, the biggest take-away of the recent Netflix series that he was a man in crisis.

We have seen many brash sides to the American, including a video not so long ago from an ice hockey game, where he was pitifully mocking Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers from the stands. ‘You suck,’ he shouted.

What Netflix did was show shades of another persona, which played to his torment at no longer being a serious contender in the era of Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and McIlroy. Koepka returned to that theme on Sunday night. 

‘It was a lot worse than I let on to you guys,’ he said. ‘I think maybe only five, six people really know the extent of it. It’s been a long road. I know I seem like this big, bad, tough guy on the golf course who doesn’t smile…’

It was at Augusta where Koepka admitted he likely never would have gone to LIV if he thought he could still compete. There is a shame in that, even if this win and the performances of other rebels at the season’s two majors proved the breakaway circuit is far from a gilded home for the washed up.

Koepka’s position in all that drama has tended to be understated — he has rarely resorted to the ‘growing the game’ discourse of sportwashing favoured by others. It was a transaction, he says, and his was worth a signing bonus of about £100million.

Koepka (right) has enjoyed a resurgence amongst golf’s elite this year after following up a near Masters victory with the PGS Championship title

Koepka refused to reveal whether he has recently spoken to LIV boss Greg Norman (pictured)

On Sunday it was, perhaps, revealing on that front how he refused to be drawn into discussions about the significance of his victory for those who pay him so well. 

Asked if he had spoken to LIV boss Greg Norman, Koepka said: ‘I called my wife and that’s it. That’s the only person I’m really interested in talking to.’ On the subject of validation for LIV, he added: ‘Yeah, I definitely think it helps LIV, but I’m more interested in my own self right now.’

The wider debates will continue, particularly as there is uncertainty over whether the US will include any rebels in their Ryder Cup team. There are political reasons for that, because from a sporting perspective alone, it would be madness to overlook Koepka.

Even on the side of golf’s pariah state, his standing in the game has never seemed more secure.

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