ROCHESTER, NEW YORK | While federal court rulings continue and the Department of Justice forges ahead into its investigation of the PGA Tour’s business model, perhaps the most pressing question outside of who might win this PGA Championship at Oak Hill centers on the Ryder Cup four months from now.
Specifically, might the American team include any LIV Golf members?
More specifically, will U.S. captain Zach Johnson pick Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to round out his roster in Rome?
Depending on how you choose to read the tea leaves or ryegrass, the answer is still blowing in the springtime wind.
If a decision has been made, Zach Johnson isn’t saying.
“It’s not even a discussion item,” Johnson answered earlier this week. “It’s not on my radar right now.”
Yet, Johnson already has received approval to take his 12-player team to Rome in September, two weeks before the Ryder Cup, to make sure that everyone is fully acquainted with Marco Simone Golf Club, so it’s fair to assume that some guys have been asked to keep that week open. (The PGA Tour will not compete in the two weeks after the Tour Championship, which ends August 27. LIV Golf is scheduled to play at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago on September 22-24, the weekend before the Ryder Cup.)
The LIV players – notably Johnson, Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and two-time LIV winner Talor Gooch – are eligible to play in the Ryder Cup because they have been granted PGA of America membership through 2024, a requirement to be on the American team.
Then it gets tricky.
Six players will automatically qualify for the U.S. team on points, but because LIV events don’t qualify for Ryder Cup points, the only chance for its members seemingly to assure themselves a spot in Rome is to dominate the major championships.
If, say, Koepka were to be among the automatic qualifiers when the deadline arrives in August, would the PGA of America tell him that he couldn’t play because of where he competes? That seems unlikely.
“If I handle my business out here, everything will take care of itself,” Koepka said. “If you win, go second, first, first, first, it would be kind of tough not to pick, right?
“If you go handle business, I feel like I should be fine. But it’s not up to me. It’s up to Zach and what goes on. I just play my best and see what happens from there, but I would love to play for him.”
Here is another wrinkle:
At this moment, it looks fairly easy to name 10 players who will represent the U.S. in Rome, whether as automatic qualifiers or captain’s picks.
“I’d love to be part of it.” – Dustin Johnson
They are Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Cameron Young, Sam Burns, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Tony Finau.
That leaves two spots.
If you were in Johnson’s position, would you pick Johnson and Koepka (who have won six major championships between them) or two others from a list that includes Wyndham Clark, Kurt Kitayama, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Sahith Theegala, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler?
And, what about the Tiger Woods influence? He has been outspoken about LIV Golf’s impact on the game, and his opinion carries weight in the Ryder Cup process.
If you’re wondering, Johnson and Koepka would love to be included and would be welcomed into the team room.
“I’d love to be part of it,” said Johnson, who went 5-0 in the American romp at Whistling Straits in 2021.
Koepka chatted briefly with Zach Johnson when they crossed paths before the PGA Championship began, but it evidently wasn’t a lobbying effort on either side.
“It’s tough to be in Zach’s mind or where he is at, but I would love to make it hard on him. I think that would be cool. The only thing I can do is go play good. If I play good, everything takes care of itself,” Koepka said.
“In terms of what Zach is doing and his options, I think that’s kind of his call. Whether LIV players play on his team, again, I haven’t really talked to him much about it as a captains’ agreement.” – Luke Donald
Asked specifically about Koepka and his chances after a runner-up finish at the Masters, Zach Johnson played the diplomat.
“I haven’t really seen where he’s at since Augusta. He played really good that one week, but it’s one week. I don’t want to sit here and say that it’s concrete, it’s the only thing we’re going to be looking at,” Johnson said.
“It’s one week, at a major venue, at the Masters tournament. He played great. But there’s a lot of golf. There’s still a lot of golf between now and then.”
With all of the work that goes into the Ryder Cup – from analytics teams to wardrobe considerations to projecting pairings – the LIV option is part of the process.
It’s different for European captain Luke Donald, who lost the option to select Sergio García, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter or Henrik Stenson when they resigned their DP World Tour memberships. Donald could, however, add Thomas Pieters or Bernd Weisberger if he is so inclined.
The two captains have not made an agreement about whether or not they would include LIV members on their teams.
“In terms of what Zach is doing and his options, I think that’s kind of his call,” Donald said. “Whether LIV players play on his team, again, I haven’t really talked to him much about it as a captains’ agreement.”
It’s not decision time – yet.
For second-round PGA Championship starting times, click HERE.
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