Brooks Koepka loves being villain of the piece

Ryder Cup 2023: Brooks Koepka loves being villain of the piece… he is worth his weight in gold to Team USA this week – to hell with the LIV script

  • The Team USA star is the only player from LIV competing on either side in Rome
  • He has insisted he wants to play the best players from Team Europe this week
  • Mail Sport’s new WhatsApp Channel: Get the breaking news and exclusives here

It took two words for Brooks Koepka to separate himself from the pack. Two words to highlight the obvious, which is that he isn’t so much like the rest of them.

The enquiry was an interesting one: if this 44th Ryder Cup goes to the last match of the final day, how many of the 24 golfers here at Marco Simone would really, truly, want to carry the responsibility?

He paused, gave a little stare, and said what he thinks in that intense way of his: ‘Very few.’

For a moment or two, it went without saying he considers himself among them, and then there was a confirmation: ‘You’ve always got to believe you’re the best and want to be the best and have that drive. I don’t know how many guys would want an eight-footer with this on the line.’

But he would be one, naturally. And if it all goes how he wants, come Sunday and the singles, it wouldn’t be a hand-to-hand duel against someone in Europe’s middle order, either. ‘You want to play a good player. Some guys want to play certain people. Yeah, I’d love to play Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland.’

Brooks Koepka has insisted he wants to play the best players Europe has to offer at the Ruder Cup this weekend

Koepka has been in Rome preparing for the tournament but said a lot of players would shy away from the tough games

He made his way down the Spanish steps on Thursday evening with wife Jena Sims ahead of team photos

And isn’t that just what Koepka is all about?

It has been a theme of this week in Rome that the niceties have been trowelled on to a contest that occasionally flies a little close to schmaltz. Koepka himself spent time here discussing the tighter bonds of this team than, say, Paris 2018, when he and Dustin Johnson nearly traded blows in the aftermath of defeat. But he remains a man who doesn’t stick neatly to scripts, the sort of guy who has previously drawn fire for describing the forced comradeship of this environment as ‘a bit odd’.

We can call it his alpha complex, which he wears more comfortably than any team blazer, or we can call it his otherness. Because there is a separation. He stands apart from the rest as the only golfer here with five majors and he is isolated in more topical ways.

Conspicuously, he wasn’t part of the Team USA picture on arrival — he travelled alone to Italy from Chicago. And the reason he was in Chicago is because he plays with that other band of brothers, LIV, and that makes him the outlier.

‘I hadn’t noticed,’ he said, and that got a laugh. There is no doubt that the absence of those who went to LIV has altered the feeling of an event that was going to be great, with or without them.

Great, but different.

Segio Garcia is one of a number of golfers who will miss the Ryder Cup due to LIV involvement

The loss of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed would inevitably leave a mark. They have been the Cup’s heartbeat of the past two decades — Reed versus McIlroy in 2014, Poulter at Medinah, Johnson’s five from five at Whistling Straits, Garcia’s records, DeChambeau driving 417 yards at the first in 2021.

Without them, it is not quite the same and within that is a point which has arisen at numerous times in the past 18 months, because those who crossed over to LIV have often served as the villains we need in sport.

Not villains in a deeper sense, because they mostly just hit balls with sticks, but the sort who don’t always go with the grain. The spikier personalities. The box office guys. The creators of context. Golf has suffered without them, whatever we might think about their decisions.

Team USA captain Zach Johnson had no choice but to pick Johnson for the upcoming event

He is worth his weight in gold for Team USA this week in Rome for reasons both on and off the golf course

And that is why Koepka is worth his weight in gold this week, both for his indifference to party lines and also in his chimes of Tiger Woods, because it is fascinating to see how an alpha like Koepka, more than any other player since Woods, can fit into an arena where the team is everything.

That he received a pick from Zach Johnson is no surprise — his win at the US PGA Championship would have made a fool of a captain who dared to overlook him. But no other LIV player was in contention, and nor did Johnson ever make any obvious effort to look at eligible, high-level players beyond the borders of the PGA Tour and the majors.

Koepka was given a chance to comment on that odd approach: ‘I had the same opportunity as every other LIV player, and I’m here. Play better, that’s the answer.’

To hell with the LIV script and to hell with the rest. That has often been Koepka’s style. Golf is better for it, and so would the Ryder Cup be if he finds himself in that final fight on Sunday.

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