Before last week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, U.S. Ryder Cup team captain Zach Johnson was asked about the possibility of a LIV Golf League player qualifying for his team or being one of his captain’s choices.
“I think it would be premature and almost irresponsible to even go into that,” Johnson said. “It’s not on my radar now.”
There are still about four months to play before the Americans will try to end a 30-year drought on European soil at the Ryder Cup, which will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Marco Simone Golf Club and Country Club outside Rome.
By winning the PGA Championship for the third time and picking up his fifth major championship on Sunday, Brooks Koepka must look like a jumbo jet on Johnson’s radar now. Koepka moved up to No. 2 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings with 8,936 points. Only Scottie Scheffler has more with 20,236.
The top six players in the standings after the BMW Championship on Aug. 17-20 will automatically qualify for the team. Johnson will also make six captain’s choices.
“What I appreciate about Brooks is just how he goes about his work in massive tournaments,” Johnson said Sunday. “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 has said that chemistry will be an important factor in how he builds his team. Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Young round out the current top six that would have automatic spots on the team.
Johnson isn’t ready to say whether he would choose a LIV Golf League player with one of his captain’s choices. Two-time major championship winner Dustin Johnson, who went 5-0 in the Americans’ 19-9 rout of the Europeans at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin in 2021, is 37th in points. Bryson DeChambeau, who tied for fourth at the PGA Championship, is 42nd.
“Well, I just think it’s too premature, frankly, irresponsible to even have any sort of opinion about that,” Zach Johnson said. “I mean, I think given where we’re at right now, there’s a lot of points out, number one. Number two, you’ve got a bunch of elevated events, and shoot, number three, if you go back in history, there’s names right now probably on both tours that we’re not even mentioning that could have a chance given what’s in front of us.”
Scheffler, who went 2-0-1 as Ryder Cup rookie at Whistling Straits, said he doesn’t care who is part of the U.S. team. He just wants to end the Americans’ long, frustrating drought.
“I want to win the Ryder Cup,” Scheffler said. “I don’t care about tours or anything like that. I want to win the Ryder Cup. It’s something we talked about last year when we finished, or I guess a year and a half ago now. We want to beat those guys in Europe. It’s been a long time since we’ve beat them.
“Whoever [are] the best 12 guys that make a complete team, it’s different than individual tournaments. We want a team of guys that are going over there together to bring the Cup back home, and that’s all I really care about.”
When the time is right, Johnson said he’ll discuss his captain’s choices with his vice captains and the six automatic qualifiers who will have “direct ownership in that team, collectively.” And that includes Koepka if he’s in the top six, according to Johnson.
“For me to stand here and say that I would feel comfortable or uncomfortable with it would be, I would think, selfish on my behalf because it’s not my team,” Johnson said. “That’s not solely my decision. It’s going to be my leadership council and it’s going to be those that finish in the top six. I mean, specifically, I’m going to get down to the meat of it because it’s their team.”
Here’s what to watch in professional men’s golf this week:
What’s next on the PGA Tour
Charles Schwab Challenge
Where: Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
Defending champion: Sam Burns
Purse: $8.7 million
Three storylines to watch:
Block party: Fresh off his top-15 finish at the PGA Championship, club pro Michael Block is in the Charles Schwab Challenge field, thanks to a sponsor exemption. It will be his third PGA Tour start of the season; he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open and American Express earlier this season.
If Block, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, can finish in a three-way tie for fourth at Colonial Country Club this week, there’s a chance he could earn special temporary membership to the PGA Tour. He also received a sponsor exemption in the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto on June 8-11.
The spotlight hasn’t dimmed since he captured the sport’s imagination last week. Colonial Country Club won’t be the same challenge as Oak Hill, as it’s only 7,209 yards. But it’s firm and fast and ranked the ninth most difficult course on tour.
“It’s just weird now where I come up through a gate and the guys at the gate are screaming, ‘Block party!'” Block said. “The guy making me an omelet gave me knuckles and said I did awesome last week. I mean, that’s the part where it’s a little beyond me at this point. So it’s cool, but I’m trying to enjoy it. I feel somewhat natural with it, so it’s cool.”
Block will be playing in a featured group on ESPN+ Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.
Scheffler’s revenge: Scheffler’s return to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking was overshadowed by Block’s ace on the par-3 15th on Sunday and Kopeka’s victory. It is the third time since Feb. 12 that Scheffler has been ranked No. 1 in the world.
Scheffler tied for second in the PGA Championship, 2 strokes behind Koepka. That was good enough to jump Rahm, who had a tough week and tied for 50th, 16 shots behind Koepka at 7 over.
Scheffler was runner-up in the Charles Schwab Challenge last year, losing to his good friend Sam Burns, who made a 38-foot on the first playoff hole. Burns came from 7 strokes behind to win, matching Nick Price in 1994 for the largest comeback in a final round at Colonial.
“Yeah, that actually ended our friendship,” Burns joked Wednesday. “No, I’m just kidding. It’s a unique situation in the sense that we’re such good friends but also having to compete against each other. I think at the end of the day, we both want to beat each other. We both want to win. But at the same time, after it’s all said and done, we can be happy for each other and congratulate and celebrate with one another.”
Spieth on the mend: Spieth offered reporters a few more details on how he injured his left wrist ahead of the PGA Championship. He said doctors diagnosed him with having a moderate-grade tendon sheath tear. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s website, the synovial membrane is the protective sheath that surrounds the tendons in the wrist.
Spieth said he injured himself after returning home from the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I was just playing with my son,” Spieth said. “I wasn’t even holding him or anything. I was just pushing myself off the ground while he was like laughing and going side to side. Something just popped and jammed, and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t move it and got on it right away.”
Spieth pulled out of the AT&T Byron Nelson to get ready for the PGA Championship. He tied for 29th at 5 over. His scores were better each round, including a 1-under 69 on Sunday.
“I thought if I get through four rounds, and I was not going to make anything worse or jeopardize anything going forward, then I thought it would be worth it and you just never know,” Spieth said. “Turns out you can’t really kind of fake it into a major. You kind of really need to be as prepared as possible.”
Spieth said his left wrist is still being monitored by doctors.
“At this point, I don’t feel like I’m rushing things,” Spieth said. “I think I’m on par with following the docs I’ve talked to, and it’s kind of a week-to-week thing because it’s something that can get worse. If it does, I need to cut it off immediately.”
What’s next in the LIV Golf League
LIV Golf Invitational DC
Where: Trump National Golf Club Washington D.C., Sterling, Virginia
Purse: $25 million
Three things to watch:
All hail the champ: It’s been quite a week for Koepka. After claiming the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time, he was on hand to watch the Florida Panthers grab a 3-0 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL playoffs . On Tuesday night, he was sitting courtside to see the Miami Heat lose to the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Brady out here celebrating with @BKoepka 👀🏆
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 23, 2023
It’s back to golf on Friday for Koepka, who became the first LIV Golf League player to claim a major championship victory.
In an interview with LIVGolf.com, Koepka said he was looking forward to playing Trump National Golf Club Washington D.C., which is owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump. It’s going to play about 7,700 yards.
“I know when I played with Trump a couple months ago, we were talking about it, and he told me I’d love it,” Koepka said. “Like you said, big-boy golf course. It’s going to be long. I don’t think we’ve really played too many long golf courses yet. I think they’ve been a lot of thinker golf courses and position golf courses where this might be more of a bomber’s paradise. It’ll be exciting.”
DeChambeau’s progress: Koepka wasn’t the only LIV Golf League player who made a breakthrough at Oak Hill. Bryson DeChambeau tied for fourth at 3 under, his best finish since he was runner-up at the 2021 BMW Championship.
The Crushers GC captain has just one top-10 finish in 12 LIV Golf events the past two seasons; he was seventh at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, two weeks ago. He finished 21st in points last season and is 28th this year.
DeChambeau, who climbed from 214th to 90th in the OWGR, has lost weight and said he’s done tinkering with his swing. He credits his caddie Greg Bodine, who previously worked with Finau, with keeping him patient on the course.
“Nothing’s changed,” DeChambeau said. “Same person. Have a little more patience, I will say that. I’ve got a guy on the bag that’s definitely been awesome to help keep me calm in situations.”
Eyes on L.A.: Sergio Garcia became the 12th LIV Golf League player to qualify for next month’s U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club when he tied for fourth in a 36-hole qualifier in Dallas on Monday.
Koepka, a two-time U.S. Open winner, is among 11 players who have already qualified, along with fellow past champions DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer. Abraham Ancer, Phil Mickelson, Joaquin Niemann, Mito Pereira, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith are also in the field for the U.S. Open, which will be played June 15-18.
Matthew Wolff, Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III and others are also attempting to get in the field through open qualifying. About a dozen players, including Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel, opted not to try to qualify.
The 10 remaining qualifiers will be played on June 5.
Big names join TMRW Sports
Music stars Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, Macklemore, Jake Owen and Darius Rucker became the latest celebrities to become investors in TMRW Sports, which is launching a tech-infused golf league fronted by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, according to an announcement by the company on Wednesday.
The new league, TGL, will have players competing on six three-man teams in 15 regular-season matches and a playoff starting in January 2024. Teams will compete in an arena in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“Golf is thriving from a surge in cultural relevance that spans generations and demographic groups,” TMRW Sports founder and CEO Mike McCarley said in a statement. “These entertainers come from different walks of life and have different fanbases, but all share a real passion for golf and, in their own ways, can introduce golf to new fans.”