DeChambeau and Koepka’s match is another profitable pantomime.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the feud between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka finally turned into artificial mediocrity. After all, there is a healthy contingent that still believes that the two’s banal bickering was made up from the start; a plague of absurdity sparked by the PGA Tour’s promise to reward players for their social media footprint. But in the heat of the BMW Championship, when DeChambeau faced a mocking spectator and berated him, there seemed to be at least a hint of smoke. And after the PGA Tour itself threatened to kick out fans shouting “Brooksie” at DeChambeau, it was clear that real action was needed.
The feud provided the perfect Ryder Cup fodder last September, an aversion that could upset a vastly superior American team and tip the scales. Every action by the couple was trained by a horde of cameras in Wisconsin; their detached body language has been extensively examined; the supposed sharpness that was accelerated by joking teammates. But of course any material influence was as superficial as the argument itself. Koepka and DeChambeau both won their individual games on the last day of the game and celebrated the USA’s landslide victory with a hug that hardly required curious glances to recognize their awkwardness.
The latest revival of their synthetic saga lands in Las Vegas on Friday. The couple will play a 12-hole show match at Wynn Golf Club. Team USA’s goofy father figure, Phil Mickelson, will goad the players on through earphones. Odds will fall off the screen in avalanches. Their lukewarm trash talks have been repeated, but the reality is that the fact that the game is even happening is the clearest evidence that no real bad feeling is left behind. Koepka and DeChambeau will make a small fortune by breaking up each other over the course of a shortened round. It’s a profitable pantomime.
“I think I said it ten times, I mean, I never really liked him,” said Koepka, who plays the de facto villain. However, despite all his dreams, DeChambeau may not have realized that there is no hero in this play either. “[The hug] was definitely forced, ”came his terrifying answer. “He can still try to harass me … [but]It’s disgusting the way the guy tried to knock me down – that’s not necessary when golfing. “
They are certainly not the sport’s saviors, and some will quickly scourge Koepka and DeChambeau. On the one hand, yes, it’s a brazenly cynical and selfish endeavor. But there’s little merit to suggestion that it’s a shame. Gulf was never ruled by a moral compass, not when it accepted the riches of then apartheid in South Africa or today in Saudi Arabia. That doesn’t do this exhibition right, and it remains a bare vehicle for gambling, but it is hardly an existential evil either. Golf can try to break new ground and pretend it’s above such antics, but there isn’t much to be said for that theory.
What can then not be inferred from the spectacle is perhaps the ease and readiness with which almost every feeling is picked up and sold today. There are the sporadic moments that make the sport so exciting, like Rory McIlroy’s tears at the Ryder Cup or his angry shirt tearing after losing in Dubai last week. But emotions will soon be turned into currency – those worth $ 50 million (£ 38 million) to the PGA Tour.
When DeChambeau and Koepa’s dislike peaked in the summer, the corporate machinery came to life and worked out a plan to make a profit from it. It is the oldest script of boxing, but a phenomenon that is still somewhat new in golf, where rivalries have been played out in front of a silent audience rather than social media madness. It’s less of a shift within golf than a reflection of the world we live in. Saturated minds are driven by an insatiable appetite for content. The more unfamiliar or bizarre it gets – DeChambeau hitting a target on Koepka’s face from the roof of the Wynn springs to mind – the better it can penetrate attention and be consumed. It’s easy and unfortunately the direction of travel. Golf has jumped for the ride.