NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Two weeks before he sat down behind a LIV microphone at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Brooks Koepka scoffed at a reporter at the U.S. Open.
“I haven’t given it that much thought,” he said about the possibility of leaving the PGA Tour for its new rival. “I don’t understand. I’m trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man. I legitimately don’t get it,” he continued.
“You can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror, can you?”
On Tuesday, at Koepka’s first press conference as a member of the Saudi-backed LIV breakaway tour, he began with similar defiance.
“My opinion changed. That was it,” he said, asked about the sudden shift that landed him in this week’s LIV event. “You guys will never believe me, but we didn’t have the conversation ’til everything was done at the U.S. Open and figured it out. Here I am.”
Here he was indeed. Of the nine players making their LIV debuts just outside of Portland, Ore., none was quite as surprising or splashy as Koepka. Splashy because Koepka’s four major championships titles have him tied for the most of any player under the age of 45. Surprising because he had spent much of the last two years expressing his desire — both in public and in private — to stay on the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, flanked by Pat Perez and Patrick Reed at their joint press conference, Koepka partially explained that decision.
“I think definitely speaking to guys that played [LIV’s debut London event] definitely helped,” he said. That meant chats with Dustin Johnson, with Phil Mickelson, with Koepka’s own brother Chase, each of whom was in the inaugural LIV field. But Koepka has also spent the last two years battling injuries, so he admitted that the promise of guaranteed cash and limited starts caught his attention, too.
“Look, what I’ve had to go through the last two years on my knees, the pain, the rehab, all this stuff, you realize, you know, I need a little bit more time off. I’ll be the first one to say it, it’s not been an easy last couple of years, and I think having a little more breaks, a little more time at home to make sure I’m 100% before I go play in an event and don’t feel like I’m forced to play right away — that was a big thing for me.”
Nearly every LIV player has stressed this same talking point of fewer events and more time in between. It will be interesting to see whether that proves true. Koepka will likely play a lighter season the rest of this year; LIV has just eight events on its schedule (seven remaining, including this week) plus the Open Championship, and the PGA Tour has indefinitely suspended LIV participants from its events. It will be interesting to see whether his load is actually lighter in the coming years. Koepka has played between 17 and 22 events each of the last four years and LIV is expanding to 14 events at least by 2024; those mandated starts plus four majors would get Koepka most of the way to his usual total. But each event is just 54 holes instead of 72 and he emphasized the fact that in recent seasons he has rushed back from injury, feeling the pressures of PGA Tour play.
Despite a couple early jokes and despite his expressed excitement at debuting on LIV, Koepka’s mood grew increasingly defiant as the media session continued. Koepka is often snippy with reporters but his approach was a marked contrast from fellow debutants Matthew Wolff, who said LIV’s team format was a throwback to fond college memories, and Pat Perez, who said he felt like he’d hit the lottery just by being asked (and paid) to play. Instead, Koepka bristled at a series of awkward-but-predictable questions.
Asked about the controversial source of LIV’s funding — the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund — he bristled.
“We’re playing golf,” he said.
Asked about his own change of heart, Koepka fired back at golf’s media for being slow on the uptake.
“The conversation has been going on for a while. What’s that, three years? So I mean it’s been around a lot longer than you guys have figured it out or when you guys first heard about it,” he said. “And like I said, my opinion changed. I’m allowed to have my opinion change.”
After a tense back-and-forth with another reporter about how LIV will actually grow the game — “Well, considering that the fact that there’s more golf on TV, I mean, yeah, that’s going to grow the game; right?” — the session finished with a reporter from Golfweek, who asked whether the players had undergone media training, knowing they would face tough questions.
“Zero,” Perez said.
Koepka shook his head.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I mean, unless you want to do it yourself.”
“Just asking,” the reporter said.
“I know,” Koepka said, holding his gaze an extra second. “I just gave you an answer, man. Thanks, chief.”
That was that; the press conference wrapped just moments later. The trio stepped down from their podium and walked outside; Pumpkin Ridge, fan-free this Tuesday, was remarkably quiet. The calm before the storm.