Tuesday April 23, 2024

Rahm, Koepka seek to keep US Open focus amid merger turmoil

June 15, 2023

LOS ANGELES: Jon Rahm says the merger of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf´s Saudi backers has left golfers in limbo, but Brooks Koepka isn´t daunted by a little "chaos" at this week´s US Open.

The winners of the first two majors of the year -- Rahm claimed his second major title at the Masters in April and Koepka bagged his fifth at the PGA Championship last month -- were among the many blindsided by the shock announcement last week that the PGA Tour and DP World Tour would join forces with the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

The deal is being billed as one that will end the bitter rift that erupted when the breakaway LIV Golf league launched in October 2021.

But the merger has already drawn scrutiny from US lawmakers, and with nothing official and few details released of how the rapprochement will unfold, players arriving at Los Angeles Country Club for the 123rd US Open almost uniformly said they were just trying to shut out the politics and focus on the task at hand.

"It´s tough when it´s the week before a major," said Rahm, who said the sudden revelation felt like a "betrayal" by US PGA Tour officials who had vilified LIV as a Saudi sportswashing scheme poaching stars to play in a substandard format.

"I want to have faith that this is the best thing for all of us, but it´s clear that that´s not the consensus," Rahm said. "I think the general feeling is that a lot of people feel a bit of betrayal from management."

Rahm said he understood the need to keep negotiations quiet, but with so little information available about what the future golf landscape will look like "we´re all in a bit of a state of limbo because we don´t know what´s going on and how much is finalized and how much they can talk about, either."

While another layer of uncertainty is the last thing Rahm wants to see at a US Open, Koepka said his ability to shut out distractions is one of his main advantages at a major championship.

"I enjoy the chaos," Koepka said. "The more chaotic things get the easier it gets for me. Everything starts to slow down and I am able to focus on whatever I need to focus on while everybody else is dealing with distractions, worried about other things."

Rahm and Koepka are among the favorites this week, along with world number one Scottie Scheffler, third-ranked Rory McIlroy and reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith.

England´s Matt Fitzpatrick defends the title he won last year at Brookline and like many in the field is unfamiliar with the par-70 Los Angeles Country Club North Course -- which last hosted a PGA Tour event when it held the Los Angeles Open in 1940.

Koepka´s PGA Tour triumph at Oak Hill made him the first LIV golfer to win a major title, and signalled his return to top form in the wake of 2021 right knee surgery that he once feared would derail his career.

Now he´s eager to challenge for a third US Open title, to go with those he won in 2017 and 2018, and the tougher the US Golf Association makes it, the better he´ll like it. "I just feel like I can outlast everybody when it comes to having to par things to death," Koepka said.

Rahm, who competed at LA Country Club as a star collegiate golfer, said it can provide just such a test, even though at first glance it doesn´t resemble the usual US Open challenge.

"It is a US Open. Fairways and greens, hopefully two-putt and move on," Rahm said of what will be required. "I think it´s deceptively wide. Those fairways look bigger than they play."

"It makes you think," added Rahm, whose win at Augusta National was one of his four PGA Tour victories so far this year. "It´s got everything. It´s got all the ingredients to be a great week."

Scheffler, who played the course in the Walker Cup amateur matches in 2017, agreed. "I think this course is a really good mix of holes," Scheffler said. "The fairways maybe average a little bit wider than they usually are, but when you get fairways that are very firm, any sort of curve you put on the ball makes it play so much smaller. "With how firm I think we´re going to get this golf course, it´s going to be a really good test for all parts of the game."