This man is actually emotional, I realized. After Brooks Koepka putted out for a $4-million victory at LIV Jeddah and turned to speak with an on-course reporter, his eyes were glassy. “The last two years—they haven’t been fun,” he said, his voice quavering. “I mean, I didn’t know if my career was over for a half-second.”
Koepka was referring to his recent knee issues, which culminated in a surgery last year and caused his worst run of form since he broke out for his maiden U.S. Open win in 2017. Before LIV Jeddah, he hadn’t won since the 2021 WM Open and, more to the point, hadn’t recorded a top 50 in a major since the 2021 Open Championship. At his introductory LIV press conference in Portland, Brooks sounded morose about his chances of returning to his pre-pandemic peak. “I got a surgically repaired knee,” he said with an edge of ‘can’t believe you’re making me spell this out’ annoyance. “I mean, how can you be 100 percent?”
Still, I didn’t expect the guy who barely cracked a smile on his way to four major titles to get all verklempt about a playoff win over Peter Uihlein in Saudi Arabia. I was left with two takeaways: 1) Koepka must have been in a darker place for the past couple of years than anyone outside of his circle knew; 2) it appears that LIV Jeddah felt like a real, significant golf tournament to him.
Make of #1 what you will. If you’re inclined to be more sympathetic toward Brooks after seeing him flash some vulnerability, that’s understandable. I still think he’s a phony—though I’m sure I’d have a different view if I were shopping for a lime-green Lambo right now.
As for #2, I take it as a sign that LIV’s adversaries (of which I’m one) shouldn’t fool themselves into believing that these events will never feel important. Yes, the courses stink and the crowds have been light. But the players are world-class, the purses are huge, and over time, as the Potemkin Village-y scent of fresh construction wears off, LIV tournaments will come to seem just as real as the RSM Classic or the AT&T Byron Nelson. The players will care about winning because that’s what elite athletes do.
I don’t say this as an endorsement of the Saudi government’s incursion into professional golf. I say it as a reminder that the battle here isn’t between true and counterfeit versions of the competitive game. Rather, it’s between a flawed nonprofit organization and a belligerent startup funded by a cruel monarchy. So I’m sorry, but the best argument against LIV Golf isn’t the easy one about the quality of the tournaments themselves. It’s the riskier, more complicated one about the immorality of the whole enterprise.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.