Berlet on Golf: Travelers Championship

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan at a press conference June 22 at TPC River Highlands spoke about major changes coming to the PGA Tour in 2023 and 2024.


CROMWELL, Conn. – Golf has always been a sport built largely on integrity, but now many of its professional participants are sadly becoming as greedy as Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Basketball Association players. They, too, view the current landscape in purely economic terms: what’s the maximum they can be paid for the minimum amount of work?
The latest marquee linkster to leave the place where he had been able to amass a fortune chasing around a little ball and trying to put it in a little hole for allegedly greener pastures is four-time major championship winner Brooks Koepka, a frequent complainer who quickly became the ultimate hypocrite when he officially signed on with LIV Golf on Wednesday.

A week ago, before the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Koepka claimed he’d barely heard of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series and didn’t hide his negative feelings about being asked several questions about the renegade entity on the eve of the national championship that he had won twice. When asked if he might join LIV, Koepka said, “There’s been no other option to this point, so where else are you going to go?”

Koepka then got borderline nasty. “I’m here at the U.S. Open,” he said. “I’m ready to play the U.S. Open, and I think it kind of sucks, too, you are throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. It’s one of my favorite events. I don’t know why you guys keep doing that. The more legs you give it, the more you keep talking about it.”

But is there a dollar amount that would make you go to LIV Golf? Isn’t LIV Golf perfect for you since you can concentrate on majors and play 8-to-10 other tournaments with huge purses? What about the future of LIV Golf?

“I don’t understand,” Koepka reiterated. “I’m trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man. I legitimately don’t get it. I’m tired of the conversations. I’m tired of all this stuff. Like I said, y’all are throwing a black cloud on the U.S. Open. I think that sucks. I actually do feel bad for them for once because it’s a sh—y situation. We’re here to play, and you are talking about an event that happened last week.”

Well, somewhere between Brookline and TPC River Highlands, Koepka had some kind of epiphany, obviously deciding hundreds of millions of greenbacks were more important than the human right atrocities in Saudi Arabia and a commitment to the best professional golf tour in history. He tied for 55th in the U.S. Open and remained in the starting times for the Travelers Championship Celebrity Pro-Am on Wednesday and the first two rounds of the tournament on Thursday and Friday. But the PGA Tour announced he had withdrawn via Twitter on Tuesday night and had been replaced by Mark Hubbard.

So Koepka, 32, currently 19th in the Official World Golf Ranking after being No. 1 when he arrived at TPC River Highlands in 2019, had done a sudden about-face and joined fellow defectors such as two-time Canon Greater Hartford Open champion Phil Mickelson, 2020 Travelers Championship winner Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Abraham Ancer, Branden Grace, Graham McDowell, Pat Perez and Charl Schwartzel, who won the inaugural LIV event in suburban London on June 11. Johnson, DeChambeau and Koepka had committed to Connecticut’s biggest sporting event but won’t be anywhere near TPC River Highlands this week. Koepka, who played only three times since March in major championships due to continued physical ailments, joined brother Chase, who was already a LIV Golf member.

The new series has a small commitment of only eight events with 54 holes of individual and team competitions, no cuts and shotgun starts.

“(That format) is not a golf tournament,” 2021 U.S. Open champion and third-ranked Jon Rahm said last week. “It’s that simple.”

Pro golf’s fledging disturbance took root more than two years ago in the Middle East with talks of an upstart league that would rival the PGA Tour and potentially pick off some of the game’s best players. It was an idea that Hall of Famer and 1995 Canon GHO champion Greg Norman had been trying to hatch for decades, and now it had finally reached fruition for LIV Golf’s CEO.

Brooks Koepka, two-time U.S. Open winner and four-time majors champion, addresses the media during a testy press conference Tuesday June 14 at The Country Club.


PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had two meetings with 100 players and then the PGA Tour policy board earlier Tuesday. Obviously realizing more defections were likely coming, Monahan, who had suspended 17 players after they teed off on June 9, covered predictable topics ranging from the ongoing threat of LIV Golf to how the PGA Tour’s fall schedule was poised to be reworked with new events with no cuts and limited fields of the top golfers from the previous FedExCup season.

In a press conference Wednesday, Monahan began by harking back two years to when the Travelers Championship was only the third tournament to be played after the PGA Tour’s three-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were learning to navigate the many unknowns with the pandemic,” Monahan recalled. “We had several positive tests coming into the week and had to withdraw numerous played and caddies with a potential risk or fear that the return of golf would be cut short, and then where would we go from there? I spoke with many of you throughout the summer about how we would respond and adapt. Each time I acknowledged we were facing an unprecedented situation, yet with the combination of our organization’s strength, our committed partnerships and shear grit, I was confident we would come out of the pandemic even stronger, and we did.

“Today, I choose to echo that same refrain. As I said to our members in the player meeting, we will ultimately come out of the current challenge stronger because of our loyalty and support of our players and fans, the best in the world, as well as our planned future growth and with values as our North Star. And as I also said to the players, let me be clear. I am not naïve. If this is an arms race and if the only weapons are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete. The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf. We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.

“When someone attempts to buy the sport, dismantle the institutions that are intrinsically invested in its growth, and focus only on a personal priority, that partnership evaporates. Instead, we end up with one person, one entity, using endless amounts of money to direct employees, not members or partners, toward their personal goal, which may or may not change tomorrow or the next day. I doubt that’s the vision any of us have for the game.”

Monahan said he knew legacy and purpose sound like talking points that don’t mean much, but when he talks of those concepts, it isn’t about some sort of “intangible moral high ground.” Rather, it’s the PGA Tour’s track record as an organization and as a sport when the players compete for the opportunity to add their names to history books while enjoying significant financial benefits without have to wrestle with any moral ambiguity.

“Pure competition creates relevancy and context, which is what fans need and expect in order to invest their time in a sport and in a player,” Monahan said. “That’s the beauty of the PGA Tour. We have and always will provide a global platform for members to compete against the very best, earn their stardom and become household names.”

Monahan announced several changes that include a revamped schedule that certainly can enhance a players’ chance for more lucrative financial gain. The fall will feature three marquee events for the top players that will be played around the globe, as well as a reworked domestic schedule that will be transformed into a type of qualifying series for the next season. In 2023, players will compete for more than $50 million in additional prize money, and eight tournaments will have purse increases to $20 million. In 2024, the FedExCup will be contested from January to August, culminating with the FedExCup playoffs and followed by the fall events, which will determine the top 125 and finalize eligibility for the next FedExCup season.

The Travelers Championship, with a rich 70-year history of legendary golf performances in Connecticut, tees of June 23-26 at TPC River Highlands.

The revised field sizes for the FedExCup playoffs in 2023 and beyond of 70 players for the FedExCup St. Jude Championship, 50 players at the BMW Championship and 30 players at the Tour Championship. The 70 players who qualify for the first playoff event will be fully exempt for the following season, including the invitationals. The creation of a series of up to three international events to be played after the conclusion of the fall schedule, which will include the top 50 players from the final FedExCup points list. Besides those changes, the policy board amended the resource allocation plan to increase purse sizes at eight events during the 2022-23 season with an average purse at $20 million.

“We don’t expect to overcome this current challenge by relying on our legacy and track record alone,” Monahan said. “We’ve been on a path for a number of years to strengthen and evolve our product for the benefit of our fans and players alike. Those plans ae obviously accelerated in light of the current environment, and we have some exciting developments coming out of the policy board meeting that will further secure our status as the preeminent golf tour in the world. There is more work to be done and details to confirm, but implementing substantial changes to our schedule gives us the opportunity to not only drive earnings to our players but also improve our product and create a platform for continued growth in the future.”

Monahan called Scottie Scheffler “Exhibit A” of what can be accomplished in professional golf. Scheffler was the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2019, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2020, Ryder Cup rookie in 2021 and is now No. 1 in the world and FedExCup rankings. He has four wins this year, including the Masters, and a tie for second in the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., on Sunday gave him nine Top-10 finishes in 19 starts and enabled him to set the PGA Tour record for most official money earned in one season, $12,896,849. And there was no letup Wednesday as he won the Celebrity Pro-Am, making eight birdies in the last 12 holes, including five in a row from No. 7 to 11, in shooting an 8-under-par 62.

“His journey is that of a true meritocracy,” said Monahan, who currently oversees the top 15 players in the world. “If you’re good enough, you will rise to the top. And if you don’t continue to earn that spot, someone else as hungry and as talented is right there to take your place. Again, that’s the unique beauty of what the Tour has and always will offer to fans. It’s damn good, and it’s forth fighting for.”

Scheffler said he wanted to continue to be “a man of my word” as far as playing after such a mentally straining week. And he showed his professionalism again when he said he doubted he would ever join LIV Golf and Koepka, who ironically is also part of the Hambric Sports Management stable in Dallas.

“That was definitely a surprise,” Scheffler said of Koepka’s defection. “I was at a function with him last week and definitely wasn’t what he had in mind. We were focusing on building the PGA Tour an getting the guys that are staying here together and kind of just having talks and figuring out how we can help build the Tour. So to see Brooks leave was definitely a surprise. With that being said, he’s made his decision. I’m not going to knock him for doing that. He made the decision that’s best for him, and I’m not going to be one of judge him on that.

“For me, it’s not where I see myself heading anytime soon. I grew up wanting to be on the PGA Tour. I grew up dreaming of playing in these events. I didn’t grow up wanting to play in the Centurion Club in London. I grew up wanting to play in the Masters. I grew up wanting to play in Austin (Texas). I grew up wanting to play Colonial, the Byron Nelson (in Texas). I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything at this moment in time. Those memories, to me, are invaluable. I would never risk going and losing the opportunity to go back to Augusta every year (for the Masters). There’s nothing that I would want to do right now that would risk having any sort of effects on the way my life is now.

“I think most of the guys still have a lot of faith in what the Tour is doing. It’s doing everything in their power to make it the best Tour for all the players, and I think we’re getting behind Jay as our leader and just kind of figuring out what’s best for the Tour. Right now, the best players in the world are still on the PGA Tour. The guys on top of the leaderboard last week were on the PGA Tour. (RBC Canadian Open) was one of the coolest events that I’ve been to, and it was my first time up there. Being able to play in front of the crowds and have those really euphoric moments where you’re actually able to make a putt to win a tournament liking finishing out the Masters and becoming No. 1 in the world or playing in Austin are memories that I can never, ever come close to replacing with an amount of money. So for me, I’m not looking towards anything being able to take that away from the guys that have chosen to stay out here on Tour.”

Scheffler said that until Wednesday, he had had two questions about LIV Golf.

“One of them was off camera, and the second one I kind of put my foot in my mouth a little bit in Canada,” Scheffler said with a smile. “So now I feel like I’m a bit more prepared to answer questions about it. But at home, we talk about it. It’s definitely interesting. You have this government and the investment fund doing all these things to try and attack our Tour. Some guys are going and some guys aren’t. It’s definitely confusing for us as players. There’s just a lot going on. But at the end of the day, if guys are going to want to go, they can leave.”
Is there any amount of money that would get him to leave the PGA Tour?

“I don’t think so,” Scheffler said. “The money that we have on the PGA Tour, I never dreamt of playing for this much money as I do now. I don’t know how much money I’ve made this year, but it’s definitely more than I deserve for whacking around a little white ball around. For me, the memories that I have playing on this Tour and the dreams I have of wanting to be on the Tour can’t be replaced by anything financial. Money’s money, and it’s not something that I’m trying to let control how I live my life. Like Rory (McIlroy) said, when you’re making decisions purely for financial reasons is not what works. For other people maybe it is. I’m not going to sit here and tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. For me, playing golf on the PGA Tour is well-compensated plenty for what I do for a living.”

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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