HARTFORD, Conn. – The United States won’t have the No. 1-ranked player in the world when it plays the International team in the Presidents Cup next month.
Brooks Koepka announced Wednesday that a knee injury had forced him to withdraw from the event Dec. 12-15 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria, Australia. U.S. captain Tiger Woods then said Rickie Fowler would replace Koepka, the 2019 PGA of America Player of the Year who had stem-cell treatment after he injured his knee when he slipped on a wet piece of cement at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges on Oct. 18.
“Today, I am announcing my withdrawal from the U.S. Presidents Cup Team because of my knee injury,” Koepka said in a statement. “I notified captain Tiger Woods that despite constant medical care and rehab, I am not able to play golf at this time. I consider it to be a high honor to be part of the 2019 team, and I regret not being able to compete.
“Since my injury in Korea, I have been in constant contact with Tiger and assured him that I was making every effort to be 100 percent in time for the Presidents Cup in Australia. However, I need more time to heal. I’m sorry I won’t be able to represent the Red, White and Blue this time around, and I wish my teammates nothing but the best as they work to retain the Presidents Cup for the USA.”
In his only previous Presidents Cup in 2017, Koepka was 2-2 as the Americans won for the seventh consecutive time to improve to 10-1-1 in the biennial competition.
“Brooks and I talked, and he’s disappointed that he won’t be able to compete,” Woods said. “I told him to get well soon, and that we’re sorry he won’t be with us in Australia. He would clearly be an asset both on the course and in the team room.”
Fowler will be appearing in his third Presidents Cup after going 3-0-1 in 2017 at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. He was considered the leading contender to be a replacement after Woods chose himself, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed as his captain’s picks. Fowler, a close friend of Woods who has an adept short game, especially putting, likely wasn’t chosen because he had slipped to 21st in the world rankings after not playing since the Tour Championship in August due to his marriage and lengthy honeymoon. He withdrew from the Mayakoba Classic last week with an intestinal bacterial infection that he contracted during his wedding in October.
“I spoke to Rickie, and he has agreed to join the U.S. team,” Woods said. “Rickie has played on a couple Presidents Cup teams, was someone seriously considered for a pick and is well respected and liked by his teammates. I know he’s going to do a great job for us. We’re all excited about this year’s event. The course is outstanding, the fans will be loud, and we’re playing against great competitors. We’re ready to go.”
Fowler had mixed feelings about his selection.
“When I heard Brooks wasn’t going to be ready to play, I was bummed for him and the team,” said Fowler, who was 4-3-1 in the 2015 and 2017 Presidents Cup. “Then I got a call from both Brooks and Tiger. I was humbled and excited to be given the chance. These team events have been some of the most memorable weeks of my career. To be picked by Tiger to compete with him and the rest of the team is very special. It is impossible to replace the world’s No. 1, but I can assure my teammates and American golf fans that I will be prepared and ready to do my part to bring home the Presidents Cup.”
Fowler has five PGA Tour victories, including the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February. He has six Top-10 finishes this year and reached the Tour Championship for the fifth consecutive time on the way to finishing 11th in the final Presidents Cup standings in which the top eight earned automatic berths on the team. In 2017, he tied two team matches with Justin Thomas and beat Emiliano Grillo in singles.
The other members of the U.S. team are Thomas, ranked No. 4 in the world, Dustin Johnson (3), Patrick Cantlay (6), Xander Schauffele (9), Bryson DeChambeau (10), Webb Simpson (11) and Matt Kuchar (22). Woods is ranked seventh, Woodland 14th, Reed 15th and Finau (16).
The International team, captained by Ernie Els, includes 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishman of Australia, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Adam Scott of Australia, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Haotong Li of China, Cheng-tsung Pan of Taiwan and Cameron Smith of Australia and captain’s picks Jason Day of Australia, Adam Hadwin of Canada, Sungjae Im of Korea and Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
On paper, the U.S. is a prohibitive favorite as 10 of the 12 Americans are ranked higher than the highest-ranking International player. The only American below an International are Fowler and Kuchar. Scott (17) and Matsuyama (22) are above him.
The International side’s only victory was at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in 1998, and the tie came in 2003 when a playoff between Woods and Els was halted after three holes by darkness at Fancort Hotel and Country Club in George, Western Cape, South Africa.