In this week’s post-PGA Championship edition, we celebrate Brooks Koepka – the player not the narrative – the legend of Michael Block and far-too-early Ryder Cup debates.
How broken was Brooks. Lost in the hyperbole of Koepka’s victory at Oak Hill was a reclamation story that should be celebrated.
On the eve of Koepka’s victory, his swing coach, Claude Harmon III, explained that “Brooks 2.0” had a mountain of issues to overcome, including two dislocated kneecaps and a torn labrum in his hip.
“I don’t think anyone realized how bad the injuries were,” Harmon said. “It was close to game over.”
Even when Koepka and Harmon reunited last year there were questions about his ability to ever play the game like he once did. But slowly, his team was able to put him back together and the results followed with his runner-up finish at the Masters foreshadowing his triumph at the PGA.
“He’s finally healthy,” Koepka’s father, Bob, said. “It took some time, but now he’s healthy and happy and at peace.”
In the wake of Koepka’s victory many of the narratives focused on what it meant to professional golf, but lost in that headline is a player who overcame so much more than most will ever know.
Block party. In the age of oversaturation maybe the tale of Michael Block was a bit much but consider the true worth of his story goes beyond the 47-year-old club professional’s journey at Oak Hill.
Paired with Rory McIlroy in the final round at the PGA, Block inspired and entertained with his Everyman humor and self-deprecating style as well as his play. But it’s what he represented that makes the secret sauce.
Regardless of which side of the professional golf divide you reside, the Michael Blocks of the golf world are the meritocracy magic elixir that makes the game different than other sports. In what other sport can the guy who is working in the pro shop one week find himself in a Super Bowl or NBA Finals the next week?
As professional golf evolves into something that feels more insular, let Michael Block’s story be a reminder of why meritocracy is important.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Cup conundrum. In many ways, Koepka’s victory at Oak Hill will likely make things easier for U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson.
If Koepka, who moved to No. 2 on the U.S. points list, finishes inside the top 6 later this fall and earns an automatic spot on Team USA, Johnson and the PGA powers will have no choice but to welcome him into the team room.
If he doesn’t earn one of the automatic spots, however, the debate is sure to break the Internet. There’s also the possibility that other players who joined LIV Golf – Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson or Patrick Reed – could play well enough in the year’s final two majors and join what promises to be a spirited debate.
Zach Johnson has been largely non-committal when it comes to how LIV players would be viewed in terms of potential captain’s picks. In May, it’s a luxury the captain cling to, but August and difficult decisions are looming.
More Cup conundrum. Unlike Zach Johnson, European captain Luke Donald is unburdened by the LIV Golf dilemma as evidenced by news this week that the Englishman recently informed Sergio Garcia he wouldn’t be considered for a captain’s pick for this year’s team.
“I talked to [Donald] two or three weeks ago,” Garcia said this week at the LIV Golf event in Washington D.C. “Obviously, I had to make some decisions when it comes down to the DP World Tour, and I wanted to see where I stood in regards to the Ryder Cup. Luke is a good friend, but I wanted him to be sincere and tell me the truth, and he pretty much told me I had no chance.”
Garcia, along with Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, resigned his DP World Tour membership after the circuit handed down fines for those players who joined LIV Golf and violated its conflicting-event release regulations. Players must be members of the European tour to play the Ryder Cup.
“It was sad because I felt like, not only because of my history but the way I’ve been playing, that I probably could have a chance, but it didn’t sound like it, so that’s what it is,” said Garcia, who earned a spot into next month’s U.S. Open at the 36-hole qualifying event Monday in Dallas.
In a different time without the politics of the moment clouding things, Garcia, Europe’s all-time points earner, would certainly have been a part of this year’s team given his status as one of the Continent’s most accomplished players, but to argue for a captain’s pick based on the “way I’ve been playing” feels disingenuous.
The Spaniard missed the cut at the Masters, has just a single top-10 finish this year in events that award world-ranking points (an Asian Tour event) and his last three finishes on the LIV Golf circuit are 26th, ninth and 45th out of 48 players. His legacy on the European team is unassailable, but a spot on this year’s team based on his performance is not.
Tweet of the week:
There’s a divide in professional golf but it wasn’t created by the golf media. The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia financed the league (and owns 93 percent of the breakaway circuit, according to court documents), the PGA Tour suspended players for violating its conflicting-event release policy and some of the suspended players sued the Tour for what they claimed are anti-trust violations. The players have all withdrawn from the litigation, but it continues with LIV Golf now as the plaintiff. The golf media had no hand in any of those actions.
The majority of golf media have covered the story responsibly and fairly. It’s a polarizing subject to cover and these are polarizing times, but don’t conflate the issue or lecture about something you clearly don’t understand.