19th hole: In their own way, Koepka, Every do their part to change Tour's narrative

brooks koepka Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

19th hole: In their own way, Koepka, Every do their part to change Tour's narrative

PGA Tour

19th hole: In their own way, Koepka, Every do their part to change Tour's narrative

By

It can‘t often be said that a sport enjoyed a good week when it included offhand arrogance from its top-ranked star and a drug suspension, but this was a solid seven days for the PGA Tour. The joint efforts of Brooks Koepka and Matt Every helped sweep cobwebs from the dated image of its pros as wholesome clones who are unfailingly deferential to their peers.

Boastfulness isn’t much embraced in professional golf. A sport that prides itself on being a gentleman’s game is predisposed to treat bombast as vulgarity. Through that muted lens, Walter Hagen was viewed as more carnival barker than confident champion. Greg Norman held his ego largely in check until he moved wholly into business, at which point it was a brand asset. Even at his peak, Tiger Woods lets his clubs speak for him, though that didn’t stop the sniping about his aloofness and fist-pumping being unbecoming.

Golf has long lionized stars who conduct themselves as though inhabited by the ghost of Byron Nelson: courteous throwbacks to a time when sportsmen were free of profanity, scandal and indictments. Blandness over bluster. Against that colorless standard, Braggadocious Brooks stands out for reasons that are obvious.

He is haughty, which is evident if you watch him stride the range at a Tour event with barely a sideways glance at the chum bobbing in his wake. He is pugnacious, engaging in public spats so petty that only a president would be provoked. He confidently sheds his clothes but not his armor, contemptuous of the notion that his conduct should be measured against that of icons long since consigned to the grave. Whenever convention demands Koepka genuflect, he shrugs instead.

We saw it again this week when Koepka rejected the idea of a rivalry with Rory McIlroy: “I’m not looking at anyone behind me. I’m number one in the world. I’ve got an open road in front of me. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, so I don’t see it as a rivalry… I’ve been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour.”

Without detouring into the cul-de-sac of noting that McIlroy won a de facto major at this year’s Players Championship, Koepka is denying the obvious. He and McIlroy are clearly the two best golfers in the world, and their Sunday showdowns in Memphis and Atlanta were among last season’s highlights. It’s a rivalry, regardless of whether Koepka acknowledges it as a worthy one.

The world No. 1’s comments were described as “disrespectful” by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee (full disclosure: Chamblee is a frequent dinner companion and occasional friend). On this, as on most matters, I disagree with Chamblee. Koepka’s comments were more lacking in deference than in respect. It’s a subtle difference, but one often obscured in a sport that expects champions to speak of each other only in reverent paeans.

Gamesmanship is not always unsporting, and there’s an element of that at play. Koepka carries himself with the languid mien of an indifferent jock, but nothing he says is ill-considered. He chooses his words as carefully as he does his clubs on the final holes of a major, and he knows his rhetorical dismissal of a putative rivalry only increases the pressure on McIlroy to live up to the idea of one. McIlroy will have grasped that subplot too, and hardly seems the type to shrink from the challenge. Koepka has single-handedly restored the edge that existed between stars in past eras. Fans are more apt to relish a head-to-head involving these two men than guys who vacation together and stand around politely waiting to sip from trophies someone else has won.

Every also helped distance modern Tour pros from the unsustainable squeaky clean image that has been tenderly cultivated for decades. He received a 12-week suspension for using cannabis, for which he has a legal prescription in the state of Florida to treat a mental health condition. In accepting his suspension, Every was far from apologetic. He admitted violating the rules but not wrongdoing.

Count me among those who believe recreational drug use that doesn’t improve performance is no one else’s business. But all players know the Tour policy is in line with stringent World Anti-Doping Agency protocols. That’s what Every signed up to.

This week was a gentle reminder of the pitfalls inherent in the PGA Tour’s old marketing line, “These Guys Are Good,” which implies there isn’t a jerk, blowhard, cheat or abuser among them. Most guys are good, to be fair, but the Tour’s reputation need not be symbiotic with those who play it. Hitching its image to the conduct of individual players risks the Tour being embarrassed with every minor transgression, and crucified when a major one invariably comes. In this light, the widely ridiculed “Live Under Par” slogan has been an improvement.

The essence of sports fandom is taking positions for or against athletes based on reasoning that is often frivolous. That narrative can’t be controlled by organizational marketing. This week, both Koepka and Every offered fans reasons to cheer or jeer them. That’s only good for the Tour.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home