NORTHERN PLAINS, Oregon.
Four months after suggesting those who defected to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series were sold out, Brooks Koepka said on Tuesday he had simply changed his mind.
Koepka signed with LIV Golf last week for its first event on US soil, which begins Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge west of Portland.
It was a stunning reversal for the four-time major champion, who was once a vocal critic of the fledgling series looking to challenge the PGA Tour.
“Opinions change. I feel very comfortable with the decision I made. I’m happy and I did what was best for me,” Koepka said.
In February, Koepka said of LIV Golf: “They will have their guys. Someone will sell and go.
Former world number one and four-time overall winner Rory McIlroy suggested last week that Koepka and others were deceitful “to say one thing and then do another thing”.
“Look, he is entitled to his opinion. He can think what he wants,” Koepka replied. “He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family, I’m going to do what’s best for me and my family. I can’t hate anyone for this, and like I said, opinions change, man.
Koepka cited a knee injury that took its toll on his body and a desire to spend more time with his family as factors in his decision. He did not mention the multi-million dollar signing bonuses that LIV Golf – which is backed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund – has handed out to players. Koepka is one of the biggest names, along with six-time major champion Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
And there’s more money to be won: The 48-player field will compete for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million fund for a team competition. Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event outside of London and scooped $4.75 million. LIV tournaments are played over 54 holes without cuts, and even the last runner-up is paid.
Players who spoke to reporters on Tuesday avoided questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
“I understand the topics you’re trying to address, and these are horrific events, but I’m here to play golf. That’s my deal,” said three-time PGA Tour winner Pat Perez, who also spoke out against LIV Golf before changing his mind. “I have the opportunity to play golf, and that’s it.”
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion, highlighted the good he plans to do in his community with the money he makes with LIV Golf.
“I think over time, I hope people will see the good that they’re doing and what they’re trying to accomplish rather than looking at the bad that happened before,” DeChambeau said. “I think it’s important to move on, and moving forward and continuing to move forward in a positive light is something that could be a positive force for the future of the game.”
The mayor of North Plains, along with 10 other local mayors, wrote a letter to the Texas owners of Pumpkin Ridge, saying the upstart league did not align with their values because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses , including the murder of the United States. Jamal Khashoggi, New York-based journalist.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the tour is an example of sportwashing, in which countries use sporting events as a way to distract or minimize human rights abuses. He highlighted the hit-and-run death of an Oregon teenager: The Saudi national charged in the case fled before his trial.
The PGA Tour has sought to combat the threat posed by LIV Golf by disciplining players. The tour suspended all active members who participated in the first LIV event. Those playing in Oregon will also be suspended unless they resign from their tour membership.
Perez said the PGA Tour’s tactics backfired.
“You want to be able to play wherever you want. And you should be able to play wherever you want. We should be able to do whatever we want. We are independent contractors,” Perez said. “The (PGA) Tour tried to force us all year and came up with bans and suspensions and all that, and how did that work? Look how many guys are here. It didn’t work at all.
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