OPINION

"Escalating Brooks-Bryson conflict sets dangerous precedents"

De Chambeau Koepka

According to Jack Nicklaus, the animus between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka is being driven by the media.

It would, then, be interesting to hear the 18-time major champion’s take on a video uploaded to Koepka’s social media channels late last night in which he offered free beer to fans ejected from this week’s Memorial Tournament for heckling DeChambeau.

Yells of “Let’s go Brooksy!” were frequently aimed in the US Open champ's direction during the second round at Muirfield Village, reportedly prompting security to escort those responsible from the premises. DeChambeau denied asking for anybody to be kicked out – he made a spirited if slightly unconvincing fist of calling the jeers “flattering” – but that didn’t stop Koepka from seizing the opportunity with a remarkably swift display of one-upmanship.

Introducing himself as “Brooksy”, Koepka’s video promised 50 free crates of beer from his sponsor Michelob Ultra for those whose “time was cut short at the golf tournament today”.

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Pray tell, Mr Nicklaus. Was it somebody from the New York Times who gave Koepka the idea? Perhaps it was the sports ed from the Chicago Tribune who filmed it? Who’s to say the fashion editor of The Telegraph didn't script it for him? Or maybe, just maybe, the game’s greatest-ever player is talking rubbish.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Remember: this is the same Jack Nicklaus who has long advocated for an equipment rollback, insisting that the modern ball goes too far, all the while selling his own line of “cutting edge balls” designed to – checks notes - “maximise feel and distance”. Hunting with the hounds whilst running with the foxes: an audacious strategy. 

Nonetheless, in a more broad sense, Nicklaus’ point about The Feud™ is interesting enough to merit further deliberation. It poses the question of why Bryson and Brooks are now suddenly predisposed to such frequent public displays of disaffection. Is the apparent hostility between the two major champions genuine, or is it potentially part of a carefully engineered publicity stunt? 

Everybody, after all, loves a bit of conflict and sport, with its inherent competitiveness, lends itself perfectly: Frazier, Ali; Ovett, Coe; Borg, McEnroe; Hunt, Lauda; Hinault, LeMond. Golf, with its “player vs course” model, has largely struggled to recreate the same depth of ill-feeling between competitors as other, more mano a mano sports. But have Koepka, DeChambeau and their respective teams identified this unoccupied and potentially lucrative niche? And are we, as a consequence, being played? If so, bravo. 

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Alternatively, let’s assume it’s authentic, that the pair are indeed fire and ice. Where and when does it stop? At what point does their back and forth cease to be "banter" and, instead, become "misconduct" or "bringing the tour into disrepute"?

At face value, Koepka’s “free beer” vid rails hard against the boundary of what is and is not appropriate. Rewarding people for behaving poorly at golf events doesn't seem like an especially smart move. Rewarding them with alcohol, even less so. And encouraging them to go after a fellow competitor feels unsportsmanlike, unprofessional, immature and tantamount to bullying. Koepka has actually achieved the previously unthinkable: making the somewhat disingenuous DeChambeau a sympathetic character.

It's also worth noting Koepka apparently being okay with fans' interference in a golf tournament, so long as his knee isn't getting "dinged". But anyway...

Bottom line, the optics aren’t great, particularly viewed through the PGA Tour’s brand-focused specs. Don’t forget, this is an organisation that is a black belt in taking itself seriously.

It’s hard to imagine anybody at the tour’s luxurious Ponte Vedra Beach HQ observing this escalating spat with any great satisfaction. Of course, with the tour's well-rehearsed policy of not disclosing disciplinary action against its members, it's unlikely we'll ever find out just how unhappy they are. And considering Michelob Ultra is the "Official Beer of the PGA Tour", maybe they’ll be inclined to turn a blind eye. He who pays the piper, and all that.

Even so, the precedents being set are more than a little concerning. A Ryder Cup looms large on the horizon. Not just any Ryder Cup. A Ryder Cup on American soil, where European golfers have historically been treated poorly by a small and mindless element of the American support. 

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Until now, those drunken dolts have done what they've done without so much as a hint of a reward. Last night, Brooks Koepka fundamentally – potentially permanently – changed that. If a well-lubricated home supporter now suspects he might personally benefit from shouting on an opponent’s backswing, who’s to say he won’t?

That’s what we’re dealing with: the potential for golf tournaments to be settled by an inebriated moron acting on the promise of more booze. The marketing slogans write themselves: “Theshe Guysh Are Good Bytheway”; “Live Under Par, hic.”

If and when that happens, two things will almost certainly follow. One, we’ll all be left to wonder why we didn’t extract the poison sooner. And two, Jack Nicklaus will stomp into the media centre and start pointing fingers.

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