What is Zach Johnson going to say now:
“It’s two weeks?”
The U.S. Ryder Cup captain had a very uncomfortable week at the PGA Championship answering questions about LIV golfers — particularly Brooks Koepka — making his team.
And when asked before the tournament, Johnson downplayed Koepka’s runner-up finish at the Masters by saying, “It’s one week.”
Then, Koepka proved he’s more than a one-week wonder and won his fifth major Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club outside of Rochester.
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Although LIV golfers have been suspended by the PGA Tour, they remain members of PGA of America, which makes them eligible to play for the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, which this year will be in September outside of Rome. The PGA of America runs the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
And by winning, Koepka, the Palm Beach County native who lives in Jupiter, actually is doing Johnson a big favor. Having vaulted to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup rankings, Koepka could take that sticky decision out of Johnson’s hand. The top six in the rankings are automatically on the team. It’s the next six, selected by the captain, that will be dissected and put Johnson on the spot.
But not when it comes to Koepka if he maintains that spot in the top 6. The only events remaining that will earn him Ryder Cup points are the U.S. Open and British Open.
Koepka second, first in Masters, PGA Championship
Koepka, who joined LIV 11 months ago, has played in two majors this year, the only PGA Tour events he’s eligible for, and finished second and first. Perhaps he was onto something when asked prior to the tournament what would it take to pressure Johnson to add a LIV golfer to the team.
“Go second, first, first, first,” he said about the majors. “It would be kind of tough not to pick, right?”
Not really. In fact, it would be very easy. Koepka, who held the No. 1 spot for 47 weeks, most recently in 2020, once again is the best golfer in the world. Forget what the world rankings say. Given what we’ve seen in the only two events he’s played that matter, nobody believes he’s No. 13, his current world ranking.
Koepka has two more chances to impress Johnson in majors. But even Johnson recognizes that when healthy Koepka has been the best golfer in the world over the last seven years when lights shine brightest.
Starting with his fourth place finish at the 2016 PGA Championship, Koepka has played in 23 majors with five wins, four times was runner-up and 11 times in the top 5. He finished in the top 10 more than 60 percent (14 of 23). And his worst stretch — last year when he was 55th twice and missed the cut twice — came when he wondered if he’d ever be elite again after a long recovery from major knee surgery.
“What I appreciate about Brooks is just how he goes about his work in massive tournaments,” Johnson said. “He’s a rare breed mentally where he just is able to bring out his best in the most difficult and trying of circumstances.”
Johnson understands how much chemistry matters on a team like this. The most documented example occured in 2004 when Hal Sutton paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson when their relationship was frosty. They lost both their matches opening day to kick start Europe’s easy victory.
“Chemistry is important on any team,” Johnson said. “It’s important with anything you’re trying to construct if you want to go out and win. My No. 1 goal as the leader is to go put these guys in a position to win, whatever that looks like.”
Check that one off, too. Nobody on the Tour would have an issue with Koepka, or even Jupiter’s Dustin Johnson, being a part of the Ryder Cup team. Zach Johnson’s bigger issue may be deciding on Dustin Johnson.
After all, we’re not talking about Patrick Reed or Bryson DeChambeau, two LIV golfers who did not endear themselves to their peers during their time on the PGA Tour and certainly are not missed.
“When you talk about the LIV golfers that left the PGA Tour to go play over there, you never hear a bad word from those players about Brooks Koepka.” Golf Channel analyst Brad Faxon said on air Sunday following the PGA Championship.
“I think Brooks would be a fantastic addition to the team, particularly inside the locker room. Zach would be foolish not to consider him.”
Chamblee says including Koepka ‘slap in the face’ to those who stayed
Faxon’s fellow analyst, Brandel Chamblee, said including Koepka would be “a slap in the face to the players that didn’t go, that didn’t take the money and go to LIV, that somebody who took the money could now have their cake and eat it too?”
Koepka made his decision about a year ago to leave the PGA Tour for LIV, which is financed by Saudi Arabia‘s Public Investment Fund, when his head was in a much different place. Now, he clearly has questioned that move.
Following the Masters, Koepka was asked if the decision to join LIV would have been more challenging had he felt this good, and were playing this good, at that time.
“Honestly, yeah, probably, if I’m being completely honest,” Koepka said. “I think it would have been. But I’m happy with the decision I made.”
Koepka cannot be happy that he is relevant four times a year and in between goes back to playing on LIV.
The debate will rage — and follow Zach Johnson — throughout the summer. But anyone who cares about the Ryder Cup should not be happy if Brooks Koepka is not a part of the team.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Brooks Koepka is making Zach Johnson’s decision easy about Ryder Cup team