All eyes on Brooks Koepka and Smash GC as LIV Golf’s season concludes

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The second LIV Golf League season wraps up this weekend with the circuit’s $50 million team championship, starting Friday at Trump National Doral Golf Club outside Miami.

A moment at the conclusion of last week’s tournament in Saudi Arabia might have been the perfect illustration of how much money has been awarded on the breakaway tour over the past 16 months.

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Five-time major championship winner Brooks Koepka defeated Talor Gooch in a playoff at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City for his third LIV Golf victory. As Koepka was being interviewed on the 18th green, he was informed by a reporter that in addition to a $4 million prize for winning the tournament, he had picked up another $4 million for finishing third in the season-long points race.

Koepka seemed surprised by the news, which he confirmed during a news conference at Trump Doral on Wednesday.

“No, I did not know,” Koepka said. “I was more interested in trying to win the golf tournament. And while you’re out there, the leaderboard didn’t show what the individual standings was. So, I had no idea where I was. I was more focused on actually trying to win an event.”

Gooch, a three-time winner in the LIV Golf League this season, captured the individual points race and the $18 million bonus that goes with it. He collected another $2.25 million for finishing second in the tournament, bringing his on-course earnings this season to more than $35 million, not including his share of team winnings.

Here’s a look at the LIV Golf League team championship:

How it works

Twelve four-man teams are competing for a $16 million first-place prize. The teams are seeded 1 through 12 based on their finishes in the season-long points race. The top four seeds — 4Aces GC (captain Dustin Johnson), Crushers GC (Bryson DeChambeau), Torque GC (Joaquin Niemann) and RangeGoats GC (Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson) — received a bye to Saturday’s semifinals. The other eight will compete in quarterfinal rounds, in which the higher-ranked teams were allowed to select their opponents.

Friday’s matches will include each of the 32 players competing simultaneously in two singles matches and one foursomes (alternate shot) match. Each match is worth one point and there are no ties; the first team with two points wins the match and advances to the semifinals.

Friday’s schedule:

Fireballs GC vs. Majestics GC
Sergio Garcia vs. Henrik Stenson (singles)
Eugenio Chacarra vs. Sam Horsfield (singles)
Abraham Ancer/Carlos Ortiz vs. Ian Poulter/Lee Westwood (foursomes)

Smash GC vs. HyFlyers GC
Brooks Koepka vs. Phil Mickelson (singles)
Jason Kokrak vs. Cameron Tringale (singles)
Chase Koepka/Matthew Wolff vs. James Piot/Brendan Steele (foursomes)

Stinger GC vs. Iron Heads GC
Louis Oosthuizen vs. Kevin Na (singles)
Branden Grace vs. Scott Vincent (singles)
Dean Burmester/Charl Schwartzel vs. Sihwan Kim/Danny Lee (foursomes)

Ripper GC vs. Cleeks GC
Cameron Smith vs. Martin Kaymer (singles)
Marc Leishman vs. Richard Bland (singles)
Matt Jones/Jed Morgan vs. Graeme McDowell/Bernd Wiesberger (foursomes)

After Friday’s matches, captains from the top four teams will choose their opponents, in order from first to fourth, for the semifinals. The four teams advancing to Sunday’s finals will finish first to fourth; teams eliminated in Saturday’s semifinals will finish fifth to eighth; teams ousted in Friday’s quarterfinals will finish ninth to 12th.

Unlike in last year’s team championship, all 48 players will compete in Sunday’s finals, which consists of 18 holes of stroke play. Each of the four players’ scores will count toward the overall team score.

As Smash GC turns

It has been a memorable year on the course for Koepka, who tied for second at the Masters and won his third PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, in May. He also was a captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that lost to Europe at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Italy.

His time as captain of Smash GC has been forgettable. Koepka has publicly criticized teammate Matthew Wolff, who finished 27th in the individual points standings, for not working hard enough. Wolff, who was once ranked as high as 12th in the world, finished 34th or worse in nine of 13 LIV Golf League starts this season.

Koepka has been able to hide many of Wolff’s bad finishes this season; only three of four players’ scores count in regular-season events. All four will count in the team championship.

“I mean, it’s the same thing it is every week,” Koepka said. “He’s only in control of what he can do. You know, if I go win my match, [Kokrak] goes and wins his, you’ve only got to win two out of three. Chase is his partner, so we’ll see how that goes. Golf, anything can happen.”

Koepka, the captain of Smash GC, has criticized teammate Matthew Wolff for not working hard enough this season. Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire

Koepka said he hasn’t had much interaction with Wolff.

“I’ve tried,” Koepka said. “I’ve spent the majority of the beginning of the year trying to help and trying to figure that out. But I think it’s past its point. I’ve tried. I’ve been very open with it, and sometimes you can’t help people that don’t want help.”

All in the family

Making matters worse for Koepka, his brother, Chase, finished 48th in points and is among four players who are in danger of being relegated from the league. Kim, Morgan and Piot are the others. They’ll have a chance to play their way back into the league by finishing in the top three of a yet-to-be-announced promotion tournament later this year.

Martin Kaymer and Westwood also finished in the dreaded “drop zone,” but team captains aren’t subject to relegation.

“Listen, I watched Chase work over the last year and a half,” Koepka said. “Spent more time around him. It’s been fun for me to see him evolve, grow as a person, grow as a man. I’d take him back in a heartbeat. You know, he’s just got to go out and play good. Simple as that.”

Piot, 24, won the 2021 U.S. Amateur but has struggled as a pro. He finished better than 25th in only one of 13 starts.

“I think he’s an incredible talent,” said Mickelson, captain of the HyFlyers. “Our team is very invested in his success and we want him to succeed. We’ve enjoyed our time together. So he’s a great addition to the team, and we’re going to miss him if he’s not on the team because of the many intangibles he brings.”

But Mickelson also said he has fielded plenty of calls from players, including those on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, who are interested in jumping to LIV Golf.

“The reality is I’ve been fielding calls, as we all have, from players that are free agents to PGA Tour players to DP World Tour players that want to come over,” Mickelson said. “You know, the spot’s probably going to be filled by the time the qualifying tournament is here.

“So if I’m just being truthful, that’s a very real possibility. And even if it is filled, there’s always the possibility of a trade to get him back. There’s ways this could work out. But I think there’s a good chance based on the number of calls that we’ve had that the spot will be filled fairly soon.”

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