Brooks Koepka and other LIV frat boys are no real threat to PGA Tour's future| Opinion

Golfers lured by Saudi money are mostly past their prime or no longer up for the challenge of competing against the game's best week in and week out.

Nancy Armour

Wake me up when someone currently of consequence abandons the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. Or when Saudi Arabia’s naked play to burnish its affinity for murder and other human rights abuses draws more eyeballs than cat videos and makeup tutorials.

Until then, this existential threat to the PGA Tour is nothing more than golf’s equivalent of spoiled frat boys cheating their way to a degree at what the smart kids consider their safety school.

The news that Brooks Koepka will join LIV Golf beginning with next week’s event at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon set off a fresh round of angst Tuesday among those forecasting doom and gloom for the PGA Tour. Koepka is a four-time major champion, and his “rivalry” with Bryson DeChambeau had the internet buzzing throughout much of 2021.

And yet … for all Koepka has done in the past, he’s largely become indistinguishable from most of the other guys on the PGA Tour now. His lone win in the last three seasons was 16 months ago, and he has more missed cuts this season (six) than he has top-25 finishes (four). Once a threat on Sunday afternoon at every major, he didn’t even crack the top 50 at the first three this year.

Brooks Koepka is the latest golfer to bolt for the Saudi-back LIV Golf.

In that way, Koepka is like the rest of the LIV crowd. After years of challenging himself week in and week out against the game’s best, on the most iconic courses, he’s decided the cash grab and easy life of a celebrity golfer is more his speed now.

Which is why LIV will never be the threat the Saudis and Greg Norman envision it to be.

“I haven’t really noticed anyone missing this week. Maybe outside of (Dustin Johnson),” world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said at the RBC Canadian Open, which went head-to-head with LIV’s first big event, played outside London.

Yes, the PGA Tour will have to change some of the ways it does business. Re-imagining the fall schedule to include eight, limited-field, big-purse events is a good start. Appearance fees need to be considered, too, especially for some of the smaller-market tournaments.

But so long as the PGA Tour is offering real competition while LIV is putting on glorified exhibitions, the Saudi tour is an annoyance more than a threat.

“Shotgun three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut,” Jon Rahm said at last week’s U.S. Open. “It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.”

This divide will only become more apparent over time.

Even if the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship continue to allow the LIV defectors into their events, as the USGA did at the U.S. Open, the mental toughness a major championship requires is a world apart from the pressure at one of the LIV’s hit and giggles. Do you really think Koepka, Johnson and the rest will be able to flip a switch from their 54-hole, no-cut strolls to find the focus necessary to hold off Scheffler or Will Zalatoris down the stretch on Sunday afternoon?

Sure didn’t look like it at the U.S. Open. Johnson fared the best of the LIV crowd and he was effectively out of it after the second round, finishing in a tie for 24th. Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Kevin Na didn’t even make the cut.

Right now, LIV is a curiosity, with everyone watching to see who – if anyone – is the next player to jump and whether golf’s real power brokers – Augusta National, the R&A, the PGA of America – will have the guts to defend the game. But as far as it becoming must-watch, like the nail-biting finish at the Canadian Open was, or appointment viewing, as Torrey Pines and The Players Championship are, that’s unlikely to happen.

LIV Golf would have to actually be on TV, first of all. As of now, it’s only available on YouTube, Facebook and the LIV Golf website, and the early returns aren’t great. According to Apex Marketing, the first round of the LIV event at the Centurion Club earlier this month averaged 94,000 viewers on YouTube, while the second round averaged 54,000.

Mind you, this was Mickelson’s first appearance since announcing he was bolting for LIV. First sighting at all since he declared the Saudis to be “scary (expletives)” but, hey!, they were throwing a boatload of cash at him so what’s a little murder among friends? If ever LIV was going to draw a crowd, this would have been the time.

Instead, LIV’s numbers were about what Dutch makeup artist Nikkie de Jager gets for her so-so performing NikkieTutorials. (LIV can only dream of matching the 11 million views de Jager got for her makeover of Adele.)

The PGA Tour was always due for a recalibration as longtime fan favorites Tiger Woods and Mickelson got older. But Matt Fitzpatrick's win at Brookline, Zalatoris coming this close at major after major and Scheffler's overall dominance show the PGA Tour still has plenty of appeal and staying power. 

As for the LIV frat boys, once the novelty of all thiswears off, they'll have to content themselves with cracking open a few more stacks of cash and pretending they're not playing in the equivalent of a Sunday beer league.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.