Follow the Money

Follow the Money

The selection of Brooks Koepka to the U.S. Ryder Cup team has everything to do with dollars and cents

By Michael Bamberger

The Ryder Cup press conference, at which Zach Johnson would reveal his six captain’s picks for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. It started about 10 minutes late. And 10 minutes after that, the media people at LIV Golf sent out a press release by email, under this headline:

Brooks Koepka Named to 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup Team.

The lone quote in the release is from Greg Norman, the LIV Golf commissioner.

Phil Mickelson is not part of the management of this 2023 team because of his decision to join LIV Golf. He would have been a vice captain or the captain, had it not been for that decision.

Henrik Stenson lost his job as the European Ryder Cup captain because of his decision to join LIV Golf as a player.

By European Ryder Cup rules, LIV players are not eligible to make the European team.

Brooks Koepka almost made the team on points alone, on the basis of his second-place* finish at the Masters and his win at the PGA Championship. The top six players on a point system qualified for the team. Koepka was seventh. The only thing that could have kept him off the team was the thing that kept Mickelson from having any kind of role with it: his contract with LIV Golf, which was once seen as an existential threat to the PGA Tour.

Now, at least by public statement, LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are in the process of becoming business partners. On that basis, the threat is over. Saudi millions and likely billions, if this partnership happens, will find its way to various accounts in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

So on that basis, money has won again. Koepka’s contract with LIV Golf was no longer a disqualifying mark. On that basis, if you let that logic play out, Mickelson should now be on the very, very short list to become a U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

The beauty and the excitement and the thrill of the Ryder Cup was that it transcended money. From the U.S. side, you had PGA Tour players representing their country, their tour, the association (the PGA of America) in which they came up. They were playing for pride and status. Yes, the PGA of America and its European counterparts made money from the Ryder Cup. So did the networks and the host courses. But the competition was as pure as pure could be.

The emotional tit-for-tat between Patrick Reed (Texas/USA) and Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland/Europe) in their 2016 Ryder Cup singles match, with all that gesturing and gesticulating, looked ridiculous then, but anybody could see what fueled it: pride, status, some level of personal dislike, each for the other, and, more than anything, the very thing that motivates every high school football team: Go Team Go!

Had Johnson had not selected Koepka, he would have been drawing a mile-wide line (name your desert) with the world’s largest Sharpie about the otherness of the PGA Tour. By selecting him, that otherness took a hit. The Ryder Cup took a hit, too, because once again money carried the day.

I believe that LIV Golf is an existential threat to the PGA Tour. Its purses have caused the PGA Tour to raise its purses to numbers that I don’t think are sustainable, unless the Saudis’ Public Investment Fund starts supplementing PGA Tour purses. In the future, corporate boards of large U.S. public companies are going to be less interested in sponsoring golf tournaments, as the composition of boards changes (fewer old white men!) and as the nature of professional golf changes. The starting point for professional golf, scorecard in hand, used to be to do the right thing. I fear that standard is slipping.

(*Brooks Koepka, first round, 2023 Masters, 15th hole. His caddie clearly shared information with another caddie. Anybody could see it. Koepka didn’t gain any advantage. It doesn’t matter. I believe Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and a thousand others would have added two shots to their score the moment they saw the tape. It’s basic, really.)

In my casual golf over the past two years, I have never heard anybody say they are more interested in professional golf because of the creation of LIV Golf, because of all the new money on the PGA Tour, than they were before.

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t see how this PGA Tour-PIF partnership can work if LIV Golf continues. There are not enough weeks in the year to accommodate both tours, with players coming and going from one to the other. There is not enough global interest in golf. What Padraig Harrington told me at the U.S. Open in Los Angeles must be correct: Touring pros should not be worried about playing for more money, they should be worried about playing for less.

The power, the historic excitement, of Ryder Cup golf—and Walker Cup golf and Solheim Cup golf and Curtis Cup golf—comes from the underlying fact that golf is not a global game. If all politics is local, as Tip O’Neill was fond of saying, all team-sports rooting is local, too. Consider World Cup soccer, Olympic basketball, World Series baseball and a hundred other things.

I used to think there was no chance that Mickelson could become a Ryder Cup captain, once he went LIV, given the way he went LIV. But the selection of Koepka makes me reconsider all that.

Follow the Money

I asked Johnson at his Tuesday morning press conference if Koepka’s connection to LIV Golf was a factor as he considered him for the team.

“He basically earned his way on to this team, if you’re going to get down to the pennies and dollars of it,” Johnson said.

Johnson was referring to Koepka’s seventh-place finish on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. That is, his win at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May. His second-place* finish at Augusta National in April.

The tens of millions he earned from LIV Golf had nothing to do with it.

The hundreds of millions the LIV Golf backers are talking about for the PGA Tour had everything to do with it.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

15 thoughts on “Follow the Money”

  1. Michael should clarify that neither the PGA Tour nor LIV are parties to the Ryder Cup. The event is run and administered by the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe. If the importance of winning is motivated by patriotism how can anyone deny Koepka’s importance to the team? (Besides, with Paulina banished the journalists’ camera needs Jena – albeit a b list replacement).
    And how is patriotism important in view of the cronyism of selecting Justin Thomas? It makes Wadkin’s pick of Curtis Strange in ’95 look merit based. Let’s hope the Sunday nosedive led by Strange’s single’s collapse to Faldo isn’t repeated.

  2. You can wring your hands all you want of Koepka. I’m just floored with the Thomas pick. It sure pays to have friends in high places.

    1. Brandon, thank you for pointing out the real issue regarding Ryder Cup 2023. The Thomas pick is a travesty that really hurts the credibility and integrity of the Cup. There were so many more deserving golfers who were passed over. Good grief…Thomas played so poorly this year that he didn’t even qualify for the Fed Ex playoffs. What a freaking mockery of meritocracy! Out of a sense of good sportsmanship, Thomas should graciously turn down his selection and head for the practice range to get his game out of the gutter.

  3. The PGA Tour and the LIV Tour will no longer exist in the future. There will be a new merged professional golf tour(your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be called) and it will basically be financed and run by the Saudis who have effectively executed a hostile takeover of men’s professional golf. I have no doubt the women’s game will be next. Why is this so hard for golf journalists to understand?


      I wouldn’t limit the Saudis takeover to Golf. In ten years they will own significant portions of all major sports here and abroad, with likely exception of the NFL. They have too much money. $$$ is the overwhelming force that bowls over anything in its path. Cannot be stopped.

    2. Women’s golf run by a country with the worst women’s rights record on earth would definitely be the definition of “follow the money”. In addition, the LPGA and there fanbase have a very large LGBTQ population. You know what happens to you in Saudi Arabia if you are identified as a member of the LGBTQ community? Put it this way, we won’t see you again. Wild stuff if you really think about how the LPGA could even consider taking Saudi money.

  4. “money has won again” This has become such an amateur response to this whole topic. Is there a professional sports league that doesn’t rely on money? MMA. Premier League. Formula 1. Even the NBA has voted to allow sovereign wealth fund investment. PIF investment in US businesses is over $38B. Next year’s PGA TOUR schedule is all about MONEY. Was LIV a catalyst for that? 100%. The TOUR is doing the same thing keeping its favorite sons richer in prize money and now influencing the PGA of America in Ryder Cup status. If the TOUR doesn’t get this PIF deal done by the end of the year, things are going to get really rough, really quickly. Can we stop the money talk and lean more into what change could and should look like? Ideas, innovation and growth vs. whining, woe is me and the past. Golf Media is so uninteresting and predictable anymore.

  5. My interest level in professional men’s golf is now lower than it has been in the last 30+ years. No need to sit around and watch boring golf as multi-millionaires continue to fill up their bank accounts.

    I spend much more time watching the LPGA, USGA and college events now and it is much more satisfying viewing, for at least the time being.


    Koepka is the one player who left for LIV who the PGA stalwarts seem to be fine with. He also happens to be the best player who left (possible alternate being Cam Smith). If the idea is to win this Cup, why not have him on the team? And for Christ’s sake, enough about the “cheating” debacle. Talk about beating a dead horse.

    The Captain gets his picks. Have to let him have them. Or simply move to a complete “meritocracy” where no Captain picks exist and all based on ranking. That eliminates any controversy. Or does it? “Man, I know Scheffler (insert anyone here) had a not so great season and finished just outside #12, but how can you leave him off the squad?” You will never please everyone.

    Let’s play the damn thing and see how it turns out.

  7. Quote from article:
    “In my casual golf over the past two years, I have never heard anybody say they are more interested in professional golf because of the creation of LIV Golf, …”

    Put me on the record. I am MORE interested in professional golf because of LIV Golf. A share of the Top players. More fun. Individual play and team play — double the excitement. Camaraderie is great to see among players, and not just among teams but across the LIV League as a whole.

    And as far as the experience watching, on occasions when I watch the PGA Tour events with their NBC (national broadcaster of commercials) and CBS (commercials broadcasting service), I typically mute the sound. Whereas, I usually enjoy listening to the LIV crew.

    Lastly, I’ll cryptically mention that some of us know what kind of people are at the top of the Saudis and the PGA Tour. We’re not fooled by what is displayed for public consumption. Golf is nothing more than casual entertainment, of zero inventive value and zero productive value and zero educational value. Wealth and fame are involved, but why? Only because of tv. And the same kind of people control tv.

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