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Tour Confidential: The PGA Tour fights back vs. LIV Golf, Brooks Koepka defects and more

Brooks Koepka looks on

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the PGA Tour’s announcement of a revamped schedule and increased purses, Brooks Koepka’s decision to join LIV Golf and more.

1. The PGA Tour is fighting back against LIV Golf, as the Tour announced what amounts to be a $54 million purse increase spread across eight of its biggest events, including upping the Players Championship purse to $25 million and several others to $20 million. There’s also a new lucrative international series of up to three events for the top 50 players. What’s your biggest takeaway from Jay Monahan’s several announcements and, more importantly, will it be enough to keep PGA Tour talent happy?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): I think it will keep most of them happy! My biggest takeaway is that it will at least feel more obvious for non-diehard golf fans when they should tune in. Super Bowl is over? Okay, great. The next week on the PGA Tour is a mega-purse invitational. And there are a handful of others where we know the best players should be playing. Predictability and reliability in the schedule for the folks who will be watching that Netflix doc is going to be a good thing.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): My biggest takeaway is that the “arms race,” to use Monahan’s parlance, is officially on. It’s all a bit off-putting but what’s the Tour gonna do — it had to act, and quickly. The return to a calendar-year season is welcome, but more WGC-style big-purse events don’t do much for me as a fan. Just feels like more of the same. The Premier Golf League’s proposal was far more compelling: sponsored teams, splashy events at new venues, promotion and relegation. It all felt fresh and different, two things the Tour has never done well. Also worth noting how quickly the Tour drummed up these funds. If you’re a player, you might be asking yourself, where was this cash 5-10 years ago?

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Differentiating the A-list events was a step in the right direction. The next steps include making sure those events feel properly elevated, which is something money can only help buy. Different players want different things — some pros want financial guarantees for the Ryder Cup, some want to be able to accept more appearance fees, some want guaranteed income for being on Tour. To compete with LIV, though, the Tour will have to focus on ensuring its product is the best and then getting its top stars paid. Thus far the acceleration of the arms race is only going to ensure that both sides stay around for a while. Pace yourselves, LIV-news readers.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Arms race is a good term for it, because it’s not a natural reflection of the marketplace — no matter how much faux populist cheering we might hear from the sidelines about healthy ‘competition’ and poor put-upon golfers finally getting the higher pay they deserve. Monahan said it himself: The Tour can’t keep up with Saudi spending. That’s because it’s an artificial market. Like Alan, I’m glad to see the Tour do away with the wrap-around season, and I understand the bump in purses. I’m sure it will help slow the defections somewhat. But do the schedule changes speak to a demand in the market? Are fans really crying out for another lucrative series of international events? They sound like a snooze to me.

2. One week after he grew annoyed with reporters’ questions about LIV Golf, Brooks Koepka has joined the breakaway circuit — the official announcement came during Monahan’s press conference — and will play in its next event beginning on Thursday. How surprised are you that Koepka decided to leave? And why would he?

Bastable: Surprised? Not at all. From the early days of LIV, Koepka felt like an obvious candidate to jump ship. He’s not a PGA Tour rah-rah legacy guy, and never has been. He’s all about the majors, which helps explain why he’s already won four of them. Why would he leave? LOL. That beeping you hear is his Brink’s truck backing up. LIV better hope he can stay healthy.

Zak: I was pretty surprised, if only because Brooks Koepka doesn’t normally like being told what to say. He thrives in bluntness. But there’s been nothing smooth about the press conferences LIV players have faced, and players have been media trained to answer in certain ways. Koepka could still just tell us the truth — that it’s mostly a money-grab with a lighter schedule — but he hasn’t really been super forthcoming lately.

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Dethier: I’m with Zak. The fact he left wasn’t necessarily surprising, but the fact that he left now, after ensuring people behind the scenes that he was committed to the Tour? There’s a story there. I think Koepka is keenly aware that his body may not be in major championship shape forever, so he’s eager to play fewer events and happy to collect maximum money while he can, too.

Sens: From a bird’s eye, this would seem to be everything Koepka always wanted, provided he can keep playing in the majors. A lighter schedule, more money. But I agree with Dylan that there’s probably a deeper story. Koepka has always been such an openly prideful competitor, calling himself an athlete more than a golfer. Sure, the truckloads of money are tempting beyond what we can imagine. But is it also a tacit admission by Koepka that he no longer feels he can keep up?

3. The second LIV Golf event begins Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon with several new faces — Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed among them — teeing off. Now with a better field, will the second iteration draw more interest than the first, or has the initial curiosity waned?

Bastable: The new wrinkle in event two, beyond the beefed-up field, is the location: first Stateside LIV event. For that reason alone, I think there will be continued curiosity, especially from American fans. Presumably LIV officials drew many learnings from the debut event, so I’ll be interested to see how different this second event looks. The difficult-to-decipher leaderboard needs work, and they also need to figure out how to make the team element more compelling/followable for fans. The team monikers are meaningless. Really, the squads should carry their captains’ names.

Zak: Koepka and DeChambeau are interesting adds, for sure. I’m definitely more intrigued. But I think people will once again not care about the second round, will probably watch some of the first round, and will care about who contends over the final few holes. Other than that, they’ll be enjoying their 4th of July weekend.

Dethier: I’ll be there early in the week just to see how it looks and feels and what the players have to say. One thing I’m curious about — does Brooks vs. Bryson ramp back up? Or are they brothers in arms now?

Sens: Most often, I find myself nodding in agreement with Dylan, but I couldn’t have less interest in whether Brooks and Bryson rekindle their ‘rivalry’ or not. I’ll tune back in for that 15 years from now when they square off for the WWE championship. Since London, the story has expanded beyond the golf world and has gained more mainstream attention, to the point where many of my non-golf friends have been wanting to chat about it. That this next one is in the Portland area adds a bit of potential friction. Will we see anything in the way of serious protests? But I don’t think things are really going to heat up again until the end of July, when LIV shows up at Trump’s place in Bedminster. Talk about tabloid fodder.

4. Max Homa joined the No Laying Up Podcast and said he feels badly for Rory McIlroy because McIlroy, among his peers, has shouldered much of the burden in advocating against LIV Golf. Does the Tour need more prominent players to speak up? Anyone in particular?

Bastable: I’m sure Rory would love some back-up! You do get the sense that it’s been a stressful run for him. One guy above all should come out guns ablaze in St. Andrews: looking at you, Tiger Woods! Tiger has already gone to bat for the Tour but a strong, impassioned statement from him next month could go a long way. Also, Homa shouldn’t sell himself short. He’s the 22nd-ranked player in the world with a big social-media presence. His voice means something; nice to see him using it. Who else is left? Not Patrick Cantlay. When asked about LIV this week in Hartford, he sat squarely and awkwardly on the fence.

Zak: Yes! Take a stand. Pick a side and stick to it. Players instead are starting to rag on “the media,” often confusing actual reports with tweets in their mentions. Know what would help the rumor mill? Truthfulness! Straightforward answers, Patrick Cantlay!

Dethier: There are still a bunch of big-time fence-sitters who have said they’re happy playing the PGA Tour but also haven’t been keen to lay their swords at Jay Monahan’s feet. That includes Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and a whole bunch more. Maybe they’re not speaking out because they want more from the Tour and don’t want to give away leverage. Either way, McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and now Homa are shouldering the bulk of things.

Sens: You guys covered it pretty well. More forceful words from Tiger would surely carry weight. And an end to the fence-sitting by the critical names Dylan mentions would certainly add some clarity. Is the fence-sitting part of some shrewd strategy? Maybe. But I’m willing to accept that some of these guys are genuinely undecided and are simply waiting to see how things unfold. What would be interesting would be to hear what their agents are whispering in their ears on the sidelines. Those reps have a huge financial interest in all of this, and, in some cases, no small amount of influence on the young players they represent. One last thing: Feel bad for Rory and his ‘burden’? Come on. He’s answering questions at press conferences. Part of the job. If anything, it seems that his play has been more inspired since these LIV flames kicked up. So maybe this is less a burden than a boon.

Rory McIlroy has continued to back the PGA Tour during its battle vs. LIV Golf.

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5. Longtime lead analyst Nick Faldo announced his intention to retire from the CBS Golf booth upon the completion of the PGA Tour season in August, ending a 16-year run with the network. How would you sum up Faldo’s time in the role, and what do you think about the decision to replace him with Trevor Immelman?

Zak: Faldo was a consistent voice, which is worth something. And he wasn’t too afraid to share an opinion. But in my opinion, he didn’t offer enough Tour-level nuance, and rarely seemed able to explain nitty gritty details in a well-packaged way. It felt like Nantz carried him along at times toward the end of his run. As for Immelman, he feels like a sufficient replacement for now, but I’m not totally wowed by the move. Perhaps I just have high standards! It’s a tough gig.

Bastable: I’d agree that he was consistently in the booth, but his analysis was markedly inconsistent. Occasionally he’d drop some nuggets of knowledge or insight that only a six-time major winner could deliver, but too often he struggled to articulate his points and relied too much on his gut versus what the statistics actually told us. Agree with Sean on Immelman. He’s likable and has a nice rapport with players and has already proven to be a capable analyst, but I’m not sure golf fans will race to the TV on Sunday afternoons to hear his takes. Remember when Phil Mickelson seemed primed for the job? Feels like a long time ago.

Dethier: There was an exchange at the end of the third round at Torrey Pines this January that summed it up for me:

Nick Faldo: “What do they call it, a sneak score, isn’t it, when the quarterback gets across the line?”

Jim Nantz: “The quarterback sneak, that would be, dear boy.”

Faldo: “Oh, I got it the wrong way — the English way. Ah, the quarterback sneak. So I’m predicting we’re going to have a ‘golfer sneak’ tomorrow. Somebody we’re not sure of is going to get across the line.”

Nantz: “What a call that is. You sound like quite the football expert, my friend.”

Faldo: “I want to be a ‘narrow’ receiver, then I wouldn’t have to run as far. You be a wide receiver, I’ll be narrow.”

That’s your Rorschach test for Faldo — your love-or-hate reaction to that signoff says it all. He was fun, goofy, made you shake your head. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Sens: Faldo could be witty. He could also be rambling and digressive, failing to answer questions that were lobbed at him. In that way, I found him frustrating more often than not. Someone who knows more about the inside workings of the network than I do once told me that he grated on Nantz, who, in particular, really didn’t like having to call him ‘Sir.’ The quirky exchange Dylan cites wasn’t the only time Nantz called Faldo ‘dear boy.’ He also did it when Mickelson, during a guest appearance in the tower at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, made a PG-13 joke that Faldo didn’t get. “Leave that to your imagination, dear boy,” Nantz told Faldo. Maybe I’m reading into it, but that ‘dear boy’ British-ism always struck me as Nantz’s polite way of mocking his partner in the booth. Immelman? Jury’s out for me. I’ll wait and see. But if I were running a network today and looking to hire a full-time commentator, I’d try to land Justin Leonard.

6. Who had the better round between two remarkable scores over the last few days: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner In Gee Chun, who shot a course-record 64 at Congressional in Round 1 (roughly a dozen shots better than the scoring average in her morning wave), or 39-year-old Michigan golf pro Andrew Ruthkoski, who shot a 17-under 55 on his home course from just over 6,000 yards?

Zak: I’ll take In Gee Chun’s round, at a major, statistically one of the best rounds of the modern professional era. Need we say more?

Bastable: Meh, wake me when someone breaks 50. I kid! Obviously an insane round from Ruthkoski (he was nine under through six!), but IGC’s effort gets the nod given the stage on which she achieved it. Conditions were foul, too, forcing most players to wear out their fairway woods and hybrids. Round for the ages.

Dethier: In Gee Chun’s round boggled the mind. Congressional was playing crazy long and crazy tough for every other player. Given the circumstances, sign me up. We’ll be talking about that round for a long time.

Sens: Insane round by Ruthkoski, but there is golf and there is tournament golf. Context matters. For that reason, In Gee Chun gets the nod.

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