As the golf year marches on, much will be made about Brooks Koepka’s fifth major championship. The speculation will include plenty about what it means for Koepka now that he’s ahead of Rory McIlroy in career majors. It will acknowledge that he was the first LIV golfer to win a major. And that he snagged a PGA Tour victory while not being a member of the PGA Tour.
But what will it all mean for LIV Golf? That will be discussed for months to come. What will it mean for LIV that their players currently hold not just one but two major championships? Is it just another indication that LIV pros’ abilities are unchanged by their new surroundings?
Among those sharing the strongest opinions: Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III
In the wake of Koepka’s PGA Championship win Sunday — both before the final round and after it — Harmon spoke with a couple of members of the media, one of whom was Golfweek’s Adam Schupak, who teed up the interaction in an article and printed Harmon’s thoughts in full Tuesday. You can read all of it here.
Harmon’s biggest gripes seem to revolve around golf media and how he thinks LIV golfers, their decisions and their play has been portrayed over the last 12 months. He begins by critiquing two Golf Channel analysts, Brandel Chamblee and Eamon Lynch, calling Chamblee a “paid actor”.
Harmon was also keen to note that all of golf media, in his estimation, believed LIV golfers’ abilities would drop off with a less intense schedule and with guaranteed paychecks from 54-hole tournaments without a cut. He is correct that those questions were asked. And not just by golf media. Tiger Woods himself asked the question during his press conference at The Open last July, saying, “But what these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.”
Harmon pounced on exactly that idea:
“You guys all think LIV’s, maybe you’ve changed your tune, but initially, it was all just bullsh-t, a bunch of guys playing who didn’t care, who got the money, who got the bag, and it’s 54 holes and there’s no competition and all that. So it was easy for you guys to just pretend like these guys just weren’t good players anymore. And I think you guys largely did that because you drank the Kool-Aid of everybody else. But how you guys all thought that these guys just weren’t going to show up and be great players is beyond me. I think it is an interesting Jedi mind trick that they played on you guys and you guys fell for it. Because you guys were all, ‘These guys were all washed up. They took the bag. They’re insignificant. They play against no competition.’ And that’s just not the case.”
What Harmon has conveniently looked past is that many of the most expensive signees for LIV golf didn’t play great golf throughout the summer of 2022 after joining the upstart tour. Cameron Smith was not playing like a top-5 player in the world after he joined. Koepka spent much of the fall playing like the 60th- or 70th-best player in the world, according to DataGolf. Bryson DeChambeau, played like a below-average Tour player for the first time in five years. Dustin Johnson, another Harmon pupil, has been good, but not his typical great. Was it an injury? Until last week, we had no idea Johnson was nursing a back injury during the beginning of 2023. Phil Mickelson has still earned just one top 10 in his LIV career, but then earned every trump card he ever needed with a T2 finish at the Masters.
Are LIV’s best shining right now? Undoubtedly. It’s cool to see. But only now is it fair for Harmon to make the case that there was no step back in performance. The numbers weren’t making that argument until just recently.
Harmon continued his criticism by saying golf media have shown a tendency to anoint PGA Tour up-and-comers who haven’t earned the recognition, at least in Harmon’s eyes. He cited Will Zalatoris, who has won just once on the Tour, as a player who was “crowned” by golf media.
“But my point with that is you guys all acted like Brooks was a sh—y player and Will Zalatoris was great, but the guy has won one [expletive] golf tournament, yeah, he’s finished second in a bunch of tournaments,” Harmon said. “So have a lot of players, but you guys are ready to crown him as if he’s the second coming of Christ and you guys are acting like Brooks Koepka was a bum.”
Harmon noted that Zalatoris was ranked in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking despite having just one victory, which is accurate. Zalatoris was ranked 10th when he withdrew from the Masters in April with a back injury. It’s fair to acknowledge that, but Harmon’s gripe should then be with the OWGR rather than golf media. Players with many high finishes, particularly in major championships, can rise the ranking without victories. Back in October 2015, Koepka himself was ranked 12th in the OWGR, despite owning just one Tour title. It happens.
Finally, at the end of an interview filled with analogies, Harmon finished with cross-sport comparisons, likening Koepka to other major athletes and his decision to join LIV as similar to the free agency we see in other pro sports: that Koepka is like a franchise quarterback in the NFL or a starting pitcher in the MLB.
“Justin Verlander got $90 million to go to the Mets,” Harmon said. “Has he even pitched a game for the Mets? Is anybody writing about why he went there? Right. Nobody’s writing about why he went there. Right? Everybody thinks it’s great. If you’re a Mets fan, you’re like, great. Justin Verlander, two years. Nobody knows how bad his arm is. Nobody knows how bad his elbow is. Nobody knows how many innings he can go. But this is my point.
“I said this, we were at Portland and a couple of guys were like, ‘Why do you think they’re paying him this?’ I’m like, ‘Guys, Brooks Koepka is Justin Verlander. He’s a four-time World Series, four-time Cy Young.’ Even if he’s hurt at this stage of his career, what did Verlander get? He’s at the end of his career and they gave him $90 million. That’s pretty close to what I’m sure a bunch of these LIV guys got and nobody bats an eyelash.”
Harmon’s interview with Schupak also included commentary comparing LIV and the PGA Tour to NASCAR and F1 racing. For the full interview, click here.