Did LIV Golf change the narrative at the Masters? It’s not that easy

Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka hits his tee shot on Sunday on the 4th hole at Augusta National.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka chipped over the green. He then narrowly did it again. 

On Friday morning, after a first-round 65 at Augusta National that gave him a lead he was around all week at this week’s Masters, Koepka looked like a nonstarter. Nothing more than a weekend chop. On the 350-yard, par-4 3rd, after a good drive left him with just 39 yards to the hole, Koepka rolled stroke two off the back of the green and down its slope. He groused to his caddie, Ricky Elliott. He wasn’t done. Stroke three, the comebacker, nearly dripped off the front of the green, stopping a couple feet from the edge. 

And then? 

It was subtle. Ten-footers to save par don’t exactly move the needle. Among Koepka’s 280 shots that almost won him a Masters green jacket this week, this probably won’t make any highlight video. But it said everything, too. 

Koepka dropped his ball over the front edge of the cup. A young girl to the right of the green raised both arms as if she were signaling a football touchdown. There was more. When things are on on for him, Koepka has a chest-out, arms-swinging, self-assured, cat-like glide to him. We had that. When he believes he’s got it, Koepka has an indifferent hand flip to applause, almost as if he’s too bothered to say ‘meh.’ We had that. We had the full Koepka.   

You saw that coming, right?

There was his recent form in majors, where he once buttered his bread, and now he was just stale, especially here recently — a missed cut last year, a missed cut two years ago. There was his body, and it’s been busted for a while now, and though he said he was feeling right this week, we have only his word to go on there. There was his turn on Netflix’s Full Swing golf docuseries, where he was wistful for the past, wondering if he’d ever be that dude again.

And now he’s playing for LIV Golf

Where he won last week. 

And told us there that he was ready

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And so maybe now professional golf has changed after this Masters, where Jon Rahm had to rally past Koepka to win. Where we saw a Phil Mickelson Sunday charge. And a Patrick Reed Sunday charge. And maybe LIV Golf is more than a punchline — during Sunday’s third-round broadcast on CBS, even Jim Nantz fired a shot, subtly swiping at the CW Network, where LIV is shown. And maybe the PGA Tour has a problem that no event designation or PIP or Tiger Woods can fully fix.  

This had been the hype, after all.  

Does this LIV Masters week legitimize the golf on LIV Golf?

Golf but louder? That’s the current slogan. This is better: LIV has six winners of the Masters — and nine wins since 2004. Period. Put it on the T-shirts and coffee cups. The golf is good. If you want to watch Koepka, Mickelson and Reed, you know where to go. And it’s not the PGA Tour. You can splash that all over. 

There’s the player side to this, too. It’s layered. 

Gone is the idea that LIV players, because of a limited schedule (they’ve played just three tournaments this year), a different format (54 holes) and a smaller field (mostly the same 48 players week after week) couldn’t handle this week. They did. Koepka finished and Mickelson tied for second and Reed tied for fourth. Twelve of the 18 here made the cut (Koepka, Mickelson, Reed, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith, Abraham Ancer, Harold Varner III, Talor Gooch, Thomas Pieters, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson and Mito Pereira).

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Gone, too, should be the discussion over world-ranking points. LIV is still waiting for them. But while there isn’t doubt that they’ll eventually receive some for their tournaments, the showing this week may have given them some more. Just look at that player list above again. You have to beat some guys to win a LIV Golf tournament.   

In short, this dissolves LIV player fears. 

Then again, maybe we knew all of this already.

“I mean, we’re still the same people,” Koepka said Sunday night. “So I mean, I know if I’m healthy, I know I can compete. I don’t think any of the guys that played this event thought otherwise, either. When Phil plays good, we know he’s going to compete. P-Reed, the same thing.

“I think that’s just manufactured by the media that we can’t compete anymore; that we are washed up.”

Does this LIV Masters week hurt the PGA Tour?

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is here this week. Last Sunday, a day after the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, he played the course. On Sunday, a few hours before the leaders teed off, he was sitting outside near the clubhouse. If he was worried, it didn’t outwardly show.   

Should he be? The Masters leaderboard is a potpourri of his tour and the other guys. Koepka was in the lead for most of the week, too. 

Should he be worried that more of his golfers could consider bolting, for the reasons above? Should he be worried that the moves his league has made as a response to the LIV fight weren’t enough? Should he be worried that folks would tune in to the rival, or, at the least, split their allegiances? All fair questions. 

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But again, maybe we knew all of this already.

And Monahan shouldn’t be naive enough to think that LIV can never win a major championship.  

Does this LIV Masters week make a player leave the PGA Tour? Probably not. Why would it?

Does this LIV Masters week make a fan leave the PGA Tour? Koepka and Mickelson are endearing. But are you tuning in for them, and them alone? And if you are, what if they aren’t contending?

Does this LIV Masters week bring the sides together?


Koepka is muscular, but he’s not that strong.  

Does this LIV Masters week give us the best players in the world more than four times a year? 

See above.

If you’re a golf fan, and your eyes on this story suggest that you are, this is sad. It gets worse. Of the 18 LIV golfers at this year’s Masters, half of them won’t be at Augusta National next year, barring world-ranking news. (Notably, next year could be Koepka’s last Masters, as his five-year exemption for winning the 2019 PGA Championship runs out.)  

Then again, are we all sure we want the best players in the world going at it more than four times a year? 

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“It’s just competitively where you miss playing against them, right,” Koepka said earlier in the week. “Because you want Rory [McIlroy] to play his best and Scottie [Scheffler] to play his best and Jon to play his best and go toe-to-toe with them. I do miss that, and that’s one thing that I do miss, and that’s what I think makes these majors so cool.”

Does this LIV Masters week legitimize LIV Golf’s funding?

We’ve just spent 1,000-some words talking about golf. If you’re wondering what sportswashing is, this is that. 

To that end, we’ll leave this exchange here, from Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley’s press conference on Wednesday:

“Back in December,” the reporter began, “you used the words: ‘Regrettably, diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it,’ and you said you were disappointed, presumably because of the golfers who left their jobs and went into business with the Saudis responsible for 9/11, the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, terrible, abysmal human rights violations. So now they are here, obviously. You have 18 here. The picture last night was six of them [at the Champions Dinner]. Are you at all concerned that you are actually helping the Saudis sportswash because of their joy in seeing a picture like that last night? Are you helping them actually sportswash their reputation?”

Said Ridley: “Well, let me go back — let me go back to our statement — that was a long question, but I’ll try to start from the beginning.

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“Our statement in December, and particularly the comment that these actions had diminished the virtues of the game, I want to make a couple points. The first is I know many of these players who are no longer on the PGA Tour. Some of them I would consider friends. So anything I might say is not a comment, a personal comment, against their character or anything else.

“What I was trying to point out, and I alluded to it in my comments, the platform that these players have built their careers on were based on the blood, sweat and tears of their predecessors, people like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods.

“I had the privilege of being a member, a partner in a law firm that’s 180 years old, and we exist today because of many generations of lawyers who thought it was important to leave our organization better than they found it. So this is just my personal opinion. Doesn’t mean that everyone has to think this way.

“So my comment in December was really more that I was expressing some disappointment that these players were taking the platform that had been given to them — that they rightly had earned success on, by the way — and moving to another opportunity, perhaps not thinking about who might come behind them.

“As relates to your comment about sportswashing, I certainly have a general understanding of the term. I think, you know, it’s for others to decide exactly what that means. These were personal decisions of these players, which I, you know, at a high level, don’t necessarily agree with, but it really wasn’t intended to go beyond that.”

In short, if you wanted a concrete answer on the subject, you weren’t getting one.

What does this LIV Masters week mean?

Sense a theme from everything above?

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Over the coming days and weeks, you’ll hear some about how the story changed this week in this PGA Tour-LIV Golf fight. That this was the moment LIV became a tour. That this was the week PGA Tour may have lost some of its fastball. The week had been hyped as a defining moment. Had LIV flopped, there could have been other questions. 

But this isn’t a movie. 

And while we love storylines and drama and pivotal moments, this is not that simple. 

So what did go down this week?

Confirmation. We were already there. It’s already happened. 

Confirmation that the Masters we watched just a year ago — when LIV hadn’t played an event yet — may as well have been a century ago. 

Confirmation that this will be our golf now.

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