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LIV rebels get chance to shake up Ryder Cup reckoning at US PGA

May 30, 2023

Koepka and Johnson could be in the mix at Oak Hill which would make things awkward for the US Ryder Cup captain

Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson want to play in the Ryder Cup. There are influential members of the United States team who want Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson to play in the Ryder Cup. Yet speaking on the eve of the US PGA Championship, team captain Zach Johnson was as dismissive of the prospect of LIV rebels boarding September's charter to Rome as someone of his mild disposition could possibly be. LIV golfers appear to be out of sight and out of mind.

Zach Johnson was asked directly whether his namesake, Dustin, is currently among their nation's best 12 golfers. "Really difficult for me to judge that," said the captain. "I don't know the golf courses they’re playing. Never seen them. I’m not there on foot in person.

"You’re talking about an individual whose resume is extremely deep and wide. He's certainly in my generation one of the best players I’ve ever competed against but it's not fair for me to guess his true form or anybody's true form that I can't witness." This verged on dereliction of duty; should Zach Johnson not be fully aware of the LIV scene and competitive vagaries within it? "I don't travel anywhere but the PGA Tour and the majors," Zach Johnson added.

At the Masters last month, Koepka was denied glory by an inspired Jon Rahm and a ruinous final round. The 33-year-old is admirably candid over what transpired in Georgia. "It is choking, right?" Koepka said. "If you have a lead and cough it up, that's choking." Koepka was two clear of Rahm after 54 holes.

"I haven't really seen where he's at since Augusta," said Zach Johnson of Koepka. "He played really good that one week but it's one week. I don't want to sit here and say that it's concrete, it's the only thing we’re going to be looking at. It's one week, at a major venue, at the Masters tournament. He played great. But there's a lot of golf. There's still a lot of golf between now and then. One of the factors that we’ve looked at over the years is what kind of form are the guys in when it gets close to the Tour Championship. I think that would be wise for me to look at."

Dustin Johnson, a Ryder Cup specialist, took delivery of his second LIV title on Sunday. It would be no surprise if he and Koepka compete over the next four days at Oak Hill. That scenario would make things rather awkward for Zach Johnson and his overlords at the PGA of America. It remains possible but exceptionally tricky for LIV golfers to earn an automatic berth in the US team; far more likely is that they will seek one of half a dozen wildcard picks. "There's maybe a couple guys that have come close to securing their spot in the top six but when it comes to picks, it's not even on my radar," said Zach Johnson. "Especially given how many points are still out there, whether you’re talking about major championships or elevated events or all of the above. I think it would be premature and almost irresponsible to even go into that. It's not on my radar right now." When, in truth, it absolutely should be. Zach Johnson's stance is curious.

"It would be awesome to represent the United States," said Koepka. "Anytime we do it, it's always fun. If I handle my business out here, everything will take care of itself. If you go second, first, first, first [in majors] it would be kind of tough not to get a pick, right? If I go handle business, I feel like I should be fine. But it's not up to me. It's up to Zach."

Dustin Johnson has been consistently careful not to antagonise anybody within golf's traditional ecosystem. "I have no idea if I’d get picked," he said of his Ryder Cup prospects. "Obviously if I continue to play really well for the rest of the year, then there's a chance.

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"Yes, I would definitely like to play in the Ryder Cup. It's one of my favourite events to play in, especially after the last Ryder Cup [which the US won comfortably]. Obviously I had a pretty good week. It's just an awesome event and yeah, I’d love to be a part of it."

As ever in this fractured domain, politics are in play. The PGA of America and PGA Tour – the latter is embroiled in legal battles with LIV – are close allies. Tiger Woods, another firm opponent to LIV, is influential in the US Ryder Cup world.

Zach Johnson revealed he will bring his team to Italy for a scouting mission a fortnight before they face Europe. "I think that trip is going to be crucial," he insisted. This represented much-needed certainty against a backdrop of unknowns.

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