How Can Zach Johnson Possibly Not Pick Brooks Koepka
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WHEN Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood joined LIV Golf and subsequently resigned their memberships of the DP World Tour they may actually have done Luke Donald a favour.
It meant Donald did not have to face any difficult discussions when it came to telling them they would not be part of his team at Marco Simone Golf Club. This Ryder Cup was always going to see a new-look European team anyway.
American captain Zach Johnson was widely quoted earlier this year as saying there would be no place in his team for LIV Golf members. But he may have no choice.
While Brooks Koepka is no longer a member of the PGA Tour, he is still a member of the PGA of America, under whose auspices the US Ryder Cup team falls.
You will remember that new PGA Champion Koepka also finished joint second at The Masters in April. His wonderful display at Oak Hill proved that what he achieved at Augusta was no flash in the pan. So, in the only two qualifying events in which he has been allowed to play, Koepka has leapt to second place in the US team standings.
Before we get into the rights and wrongs of it, there is not the slightest doubt that, on current form, Koepka should be a shoo-in for a team that is desperate to end a miserable run on European soil.
Now that he is fit again, Koepka has rediscovered his extraordinary knack of finding his best form at the biggest tournaments. He has won 14% of the majors he has played, in a quarter of them he has finished in the top three and in half of them he has been top 10.
While Johnson didn’t exactly give Koepka a ringing endorsement, he did say: "Yeah, he's on the team. He's got direct ownership in that, absolutely.”
However, Johnson stopped short of confirming that he would be comfortable to have Koepka with him in Italy. "I don't know. I can't answer that," he said. "I'll say this: the guys on the PGA Tour that make that team, they have direct ownership in that collectively.
"So for me to stand here and say that I would feel comfortable or uncomfortable with it would be irresponsible on my behalf because it's not my team.”
I am sure that it is his team. He has six captain’s picks, after all.
While LIV players are able to qualify and earn Ryder Cup points, they are currently only able to do so in the major championships. So Koepka and his fellow LIV Golf members will only have two more opportunities to earn points - next month's US Open and July's 151st Open Championship.
Those limited playing opportunities and the refusal to award world ranking points for 54-hole LIV tournaments are why Koepka is ranked 13th in the world when he quite obviously belongs in the top five.
The Ryder Cup is about pitting the best American golfers against the best from Europe - and Koepka is one of the best. No question.
So the next question centres around whether his team members, who will probably all be affiliated to the PGA Tour, would welcome him? What do you think? If he gives them a better chance of winning, scores five points out of five, holes the winning putt they will be putting him on their shoulders as they do a lap of honour.
Is he likely to be joined by any other LIV players? In truth, probably not. In Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau they have three seriously good American golfers. Talor Gooch may also contend for a place.
But the reality is that strength in depth in the 48-man fields doesn’t really exist. There are no cuts and everybody is guaranteed to pick up prize money, which means there is no really pressure to deliver.
And that is not a claim that can be levelled at the PGA Tour.
However, LIV do hold a couple of aces - in Koepka and Cameron Smith they possess two of golf’s current major champions.
Koepka is more interested in what it means for him though. He said: “I know my win is a huge thing and helps LIV but I am more interested in my own self. I'm out here competing as an individual. I'm just happy to take this home for the third time.”
It was thought that the Ryder Cup would be a LIV-free zone but it is difficult to see how that can possibly happen now. I for one want Europe to bring home the cup after facing the strongest possible American team - and that can only happen if Koepka plays.
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