Rory McIlroy has accused Brooks Koepka of being “duplicitous” for joining the Saudi rebel circuit as the PGA Tour announced a radical revamp to stop the exodus, with commissioner Jay Monahan calling the LIV Series “an irrational threat”.
Telegraph Sport revealed exclusively on Tuesday that Koepka, the four-time major winner, is the latest big name to have signed a seven-figure, four-year deal with LIV and will appear in next week’s $25 million tournament in Portland, Oregon.
McIlroy is not impressed after Koepka’s previously vocal opposition to the breakaway league.
“I’m surprised at a lot of these guys because they say one thing and then they do another, and I don’t understand,” McIlroy said on Wednesday. “I don’t know if that’s for legal reasons or if they can’t… But it’s pretty duplicitous on their part to say one thing and then do another thing.”
When asked if was referring to what Koepka said a year ago or a month ago, McIlroy replied: “The whole way through, in public and private – all of it.”
Telegraph Sport has learned that, as recently as 10 days ago, Koepka assured a PGA Tour colleague that he would not be joining LIV and that chimed with his statements to the media.
Last week he accused reporters of casting “a black cloud” over the US Open, by asking him about LIV, claiming that his inquisitors were giving the series “legs” by continuing to cover it.
Previously he told Associated Press: “I have a hard time believing golf should be about just 48 players. Money’s not going to make me happy. I just want to play against the best. If somebody gave me $200 million tomorrow it’s not going to change my life. I have enough to retire tomorrow. I just want to play golf.”
Koepka, 32, also expressed doubt that playing in the LIV series would keep the players “sharp” for the majors. However, the up-front cheque from the organisers – believed to be more than £100 million – was clearly too much to resist.
McIlroy has taken one of the hardest stances amongst those remaining loyal to the PGA Tour, calling Phil Mickelson, LIV’s de facto on-course leader, in February “egotistical, selfish and ignorant”. But now it seems as if there is wider anger within the PGA Tour and DP World Tour locker room and their players are beginning to turn on the LIV rebels in bigger numbers.
Justin Thomas, the world No 7, took a swipe at Koepka linking up with his long-time nemesis Bryson DeChambeau, posting a picture of the pair above a message saying “Couldn’t LIV without each other,” while Eddie Pepperell, the DP World Tour winner, admitted in an interview at the weekend that it has affected his friendship with Laurie Canter, who played in the first LIV event in Hertfordshire two weeks ago. Pepperell also said that “Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter don’t give a s—” about the impact this might have on the career of younger players.
Far from railing against this sort of infighting and the escalation of a civil war in the famously genteel sport, Monahan made it clear in a mandatory players’ meeting at the Travelers Championship on Tuesday that he wanted his members to “get off the fence and fight for your Tour”.
Monahan issued immediate and indefinite bans to the 17 Tour players who teed it up in Hemel Hempstead, and in an email to the players on Wednesday, Monahan cryptically said “invest in your organisation”.
With Koepka making it four members of the world’s top 25 on the LIV roster – Mexican Abraham Ancer was unveiled on Tuesday, with Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen in the inaugural event – Monahan’s angst is obvious as it is understandable. Of the past 21 majors, nine have been won by LIV golfers.
LIV finally made Koepka’s move official, issuing a press release on Wednesday afternoon, at the exact time Monahan was starting a press conference at TPC River Highlands. Monahan, who attended Koepka’s wedding last month, did not hold back.
“If this is an arms race, and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf,” he told journalists.
“We welcome good healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat.”
A fortnight ago, Monahan declared that LIV is “just money, money, money” fitting in with his plea for pros to think of their legacies and not their fortunes. However, the overhaul Monahan is introducing is transparently ensuring that the top players are better rewarded and hence will not be so inclined to run for the Saudi millions. Monahan outlined the changes, revealed by Telegraph Sport earlier this week.
First, there is a huge $54million increase in purses for eight chosen events, ranging from a $5million rise to $25million for the Players Championship and an $8million rise to $20million for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Second, there will be formation of a three-tournament Fall Series that will also boast purses in the $20million to $25million range and, more pointedly, only contain the top 50 players in that year’s FedEx Cup points standings. Lke in the LIV series, it will not have a cut.
Third, the PGA Tour season will no longer be a wraparound season, but instead run from January to August from 2024. The last months of the year will not only feature the Fall Series, but also tournaments in which players who did not make the limited events do battle to retain their playing privileges.
This will please those such as McIlroy, who has stated his desire “to have an off season”. However, how that will affect the DP World Tour’s Race To Dubai run-in from September to November remains to be seen.
This will be deemed the day when the PGA Tour hit back, but Monahan knows that in his mission to arrest the LIV drain, he needs the majors to back him and shut their doors on the rebels.
The R&A confirmed on Wednesday that every player who has qualified will be allowed to play in next month’s Open Championship at St Andrews. That means no LIV bans. But Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, who has made little secret of his views on LIV, made a thinly-veiled swipe towards Greg Norman’s enterprise in the statement’s concluding sentence.
“We will invest the proceeds of the Open, as we always do, for the benefit of golf, which reflects our purpose to ensure that the sport is thriving 50 years from now,” he said.
Norman, the LIV chief executive, later taunted Monahan. “The Tour today has made the case for LIV Golf,” Norman said in a statement sent to Telegraph Sport. “They have underpaid players for years, failed to innovate and today confirmed that LIV’s format is better… Instead of banning players, the Tour should now work on co-existing with us. After all, we are just getting started.”