(Photo credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)
Brooks Koepka was the only member of LIV Golf to qualify for the 2023 Ryder Cup, but he doesn't see this week as a moment to represent his tour.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Koepka touted the companionship among the U.S. team that he said dates back to playing the junior golf circuits together.
"I feel like I'm representing the USA. That's what I've got on the front of my hat this week, so that's what I'm representing," Koepka said. "It's not a group of individuals in that locker room. We're just all one team, and that's the way we think. That's what I believe, and I'm pretty sure everybody else there thinks that."
Koepka, 31, will play in his fourth Ryder Cup; he helped the U.S. win in 2016 and 2021 on home soil and was part of the 2018 team that lost in Paris. He feels the Americans are a closer-knit group than they were when he burst onto the scene seven years prior.
To his point, there is only a 10-year age gap between the Americans' oldest player (Brian Harman, 36) and the youngest (Collin Morikawa, 26), meaning many team members came up through the ranks together.
"You grew up playing junior golf with at least six to eight guys on the team, so traveling -- junior golf is the same as any tour," Koepka said. "You're traveling the world playing with them, college golf and this and that. You're always around each other hanging out. I think it's definitely, like I said, a different atmosphere than in years past."
Koepka was among the early wave of golfers who left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf in June 2022. His eligibility for future Ryder Cups wasn't on his mind then, he said Wednesday, but representing the U.S. in Rome became a realistic possibility after he tied for second at the Masters last April.
"I knew it would be tougher, but I think after Augusta I kind of had my eyes on it," Koepka said. "I realized, I think, after Augusta I went to maybe 20th, somewhere around there on the (U.S. Ryder Cup) points list, and then from there it was just motivation to get on the team."
He shot to second place on that list after winning the very next major, the PGA Championship, in May. But because the U.S. did not count LIV Golf events for its Ryder Cup qualifying rankings, Koepka had fewer chances to accumulate points.
He slipped out of the top six in the final week of qualifying, with Max Homa and Xander Schauffele passing him in August during the FedEx Cup playoffs. U.S. captain Zach Johnson used a captain's pick on Koepka, despite previous indications he was not going out of his way to scout LIV players.
Koepka ducked a question Wednesday regarding the fairness of the process for LIV members.
"I don't make the decisions," he said. "It doesn't -- everybody had an opportunity to get there. I mean, I had the same opportunity as every other LIV player, and I'm here. Play better. That's always the answer."
Now Koepka is preparing to return to a true team golf format, instead of his usual week at an LIV event where his teammates' best individual scores are added up. In Rome, camaraderie with his ex-Tour peers is valuable to him.
"It matters to me because I think it's a lot easier when you know that everyone has got your back," Koepka said. "Like you're playing for more than just yourself when we're teeing it up this week. When guys are out there, it's a lot -- it's always fun looking up -- I'm just throwing names, like I'm playing my match, and I see Xander following or whatever, it makes you just fight a little bit harder. It's a little bit more fun, and you're just trying to show off for those guys, too.
"But even the stuff that goes on at night, hanging out with everybody, getting everybody to have different conversations. If you're on (the PGA Tour), you might see these guys a lot. I don't get to see them as much anymore, so it's kind of a little bit more special to me."
--Field Level Media