In the aftermath of Brooks Koepka’s triumph at the PGA Championship on Sunday, Bryson DeChambeau made his way back to the 18th green at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., so he could join the celebration with his LIV Golf colleague.
“I’m going to give respect where respect is due,” DeChambeau said Wednesday from Trump National in Sterling, site of this week’s LIV Golf event, which begins Friday. “He has won five majors, and he played better than me that week, and what was sad is that really nobody was there to congratulate him after.
“It’s like, man, no matter what tour you’re on, no matter what you’re doing, that’s five majors, and he deserves some respect on that.”
Koepka and DeChambeau, who finished in a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship, are among the highest-profile players who defected to the breakaway circuit, which is making its debut in the area. They’re also former bitter rivals who put aside personal acrimony in part as a gesture of solidarity for LIV, which enters this week with apparent momentum. Three of its players finished inside the top 11 at the PGA Championship, and five were in the top 22.
LIV players had a similarly strong showing at the Masters, the season’s first major championship. Koepka and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson tied for second at Augusta National, and Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters winner, tied for fourth.
“In the eyes of the people who have jumped on the anti-LIV bandwagon since the beginning, it kind of maybe opened their eyes a little bit,” said LIV broadcaster Jerry Foltz, formerly a longtime analyst with the Golf Channel. “It certainly put to bed the rumor that these guys aren’t going to be competitive.”
LIV would not make any officials available for an on-record interview, but two LIV executives did celebrate the Koepka win, with one calling it “seismic.”
The elevated positivity within the second-year circuit was palpable around the expansive layout at Trump National during Thursday morning’s pro-am, which included, most notably, former president Donald Trump. He played the front nine with Reed and the back with Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open.
Koepka was scheduled for an early afternoon tee time at the pro-am and to address the media afterward. He postponed his news conference until after Friday’s opening round because of “flight issues,” according to a LIV Golf release. In his absence, other players talked about what his showing meant for their series.
“To have another three guys in the top 10 at the PGA and one of them winning that was Brooks, it shows that we all put in a lot of work here,” said Sergio Garcia, who serves as one of 12 captains in LIV’s 54-hole team format. “That no one gives you anything for free, regardless of some of the things they said when we all decided to come and join and support LIV.”
The “they” referenced by Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, is the PGA Tour, which remains embroiled with LIV in competing lawsuits. LIV players initially filed a federal antitrust suit against the PGA Tour, claiming the legacy circuit held unfair control over elite golfers and had hurt their careers by suspending them after they joined LIV.
The PGA Tour countersued, alleging LIV Golf had encouraged its golfers to violate their existing contracts.
The 11 LIV players — including Mickelson and DeChambeau — who were part of the initial filing against the PGA Tour removed their names from the lawsuit, leaving LIV Golf as the sole plaintiff.
Reed also filed a defamation suit against Golf Channel and analyst Brandel Chamblee, alleging the defendants conspired “to destroy his reputation, create hate, and a hostile work environment,” among other charges. A district court judge dismissed the suit.
The lure of the Saudi-backed circuit, which in some instances has paid players more than $100 million, compelled Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — among the most vocal critics of LIV — to rally support among the PGA Tour’s top remaining members last summer. The PGA Tour ultimately announced several bold changes aimed at limiting the LIV Golf threat.
The PGA Tour has since lost several more players to LIV, including 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith, who tied for ninth at the PGA Championship, and Mito Pereira, who tied for 18th.
Despite the breakaway players’ performance in this year’s first two major championships, viewership for LIV tournaments apparently has been so underwhelming that the series ceased publicly reporting television ratings.
LIV’s mid-March tournament near Tucson drew an average of 279,000 viewers on broadcast partner the CW, according to Nielsen figures. LIV Golf reported its broadcast drew roughly 407,000 viewers, citing factors other than Nielsen ratings. The PGA Tour’s ratings in the first two tournaments played head-to-head with LIV’s CW broadcasts averaged 2.325 million viewers, according to Golf.com.
And while the past two majors served notice that a handful of LIV golfers remain plenty competitive in the world’s best fields, they were also a reminder that most of their colleagues don’t have a clear path into future major championships. A few, such as Koepka, have guaranteed berths courtesy of previous wins and performances. Others would have counted on the Official World Golf Rankings. The OWGR, however, does not recognize LIV Golf events.
“I don’t think we need to capitalize on anything,” Foltz said, referring to the recent majors. “I think we just keep putting our product forward. It’s catching on. The fans go to events, love it, and it’s mostly geared toward them.”