'It's too premature': Zach Johnson isn't ready to talk about Brooks Koepka, LIV golfers making the Ryder Cup team
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A victory by Brooks Koepka at the 105th PGA Championship would have several layers of meaning, both for the man who achieves it and for the game of golf at large. It very well also could impact the Ryder Cup. Then again, maybe it won’t. One thing for certain is that Zach Johnson, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, isn’t prepared to comment on the subject, whatever happens Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club.
A third PGA Championship win for Koepka, who was a member of the record-setting U.S. team two years ago at Whistling Straits, would vault the Florida native from 22nd to as high as second on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list after he finished runner-up last month at the Masters. If Koepka, a member of the LIV Golf League, didn’t finish among the top six automatic qualifiers from the points list (he’ll be playing in only two more events that earn Ryder Cup points—the U.S. Open and Open Championship), top-two finishes in the year’s first two majors seems like a sure-fire recipe for being high on the radar for a captain’s pick.
Johnson, however, wouldn’t commit to such a notion, or much else, after fielding questions following his final-round one-over 71 on Oak Hill’s East Course Sunday morning.
“I just think it's too premature and, frankly, irresponsible to even have any sort of opinion about that,” Johnson said to about a dozen reporters after finishing T-59 at 10-over 290. “I think given where we're at right now, there's a lot of points out, No. 1. No. 2, you've got a bunch of elevated events [upcoming], and No. 3, if you go back in history, there's names right now that probably on both tours that we're not even mentioning that could have a chance given what's in front of us. So I haven't even begun to discuss picks with anybody that I trust in my circle, specifically with vice captains. I feel like it's irrelevant to even discuss.”
It's not irrelevant, but he is right that it might be premature. That said, Johnson couldn’t deny that he is in a unique position along with his European counterpart Luke Donald as the first captains faced with factoring the LIV Golf League into their planning and preparations. Asked if he’d be comfortable with a LIV competitor among his 12 players—as members for the time being of the PGA of America they are still eligible—Johnson said there hasn’t been any discussion yet on the topic.
“There’s been no uncomfortable or comfortable talk,” he said.
There also is no talk, or even a thought, of going to a LIV Golf event for purposes of scouting. The notion, put forth by a European journalist, to Johnson seemed odd. He probably wasn’t wrong.
“I think the luxury of me being captain is I'm still relevant and prevalent out on the PGA Tour, and that's where my status holds,” said the 12-time tour winner and two-time major champion. “So for me to abandon that on a week where I could be out there and go where the bulk of my players certainly are gonna come from there—I don't know what time will tell, but the bulk are gonna come from there—would be irresponsible on my behalf and extremely inappropriate if I were to leave what I'm trying to do as a competitor and as a leader.”
Pressed on the subject, and if LIV golfers would feel that he was ignoring them, a visibly irritated Johnson replied, “that's your opinion; you’re making something up.
“I don't think I need to be present,” he added. “I mean, I'm not in the U.S. Open, and given my travel schedule and what I have behind that and in front of that, there's no reason for me to go out there and just spectate when I can watch it on television.”
The top six automatic berths on the U.S. Ryder Cup team will be determined after the BMW Championship, the PGA Tour’s second FedEx Cup Playoff event, in August, and Johnson will then make his six captain’s selections after the Tour Championship. He said that whoever earns a berth via the points list will be welcome, regardless of which tour he plays.
“If he makes the top six, yeah, he's on the team; he's got direct ownership in that,” Johnson said.
But they have to get there first.
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