Koepka, 32, was the world’s No. 1 golfer in terms of the Official World Golf Ranking as recently as 2019, and his stretch between 2017 and 2019 was one of the most dominant in recent memory. He won four majors in eight starts at one point and has 11 other top-10 major finishes in his career. But he has been slowed by hip, knee and wrist injuries over the past few years, and he has finished no better than 55th at the three majors played this season, missing cut at the Masters. Now ranked 19th in the world — making him LIV’s highest-ranked golfer behind No. 16 Dustin Johnson — Koepka has not played in a non-major tournament since late March. He will join his younger brother, Chase, on the new circuit.
Further bolstering LIV’s ranks is the world’s 20th-ranked player, Abraham Ancer of Mexico. Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO and commissioner, hailed the 31-year-old Ancer on Tuesday as “a consistent contender, which continues to elevate our competition.”
More departures are expected this week, but two-time major winner Collin Morikawa — one of the PGA Tour’s top young stars — said Tuesday that rumors that he would leave for LIV were “wrong” and that he was “here to stay” on the PGA Tour.
Before last week’s U.S. Open, Koepka called talk of the LIV series a distraction and castigated reporters for continuing to ask about the subject.
“I’m here at the U.S. Open,” Koepka told reporters when asked about the new league. “I’m ready to play the U.S. Open, and I think it kind of sucks, too, you are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. It’s one of my favorite events. I don’t know why you guys keep doing that. The more legs you give [LIV Golf], the more you keep talking about it.”
“I’m trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man,” Koepka continued. “I legitimately don’t get it. I’m tired of the conversations. I’m tired of all this stuff. Like I said, y’all are throwing a black cloud on the U.S. Open. I think that sucks. I actually do feel bad for the [U.S. Golf Association] for once because it’s a s—ty situation. We’re here to play, and you are talking about an event that happened last week.”
Koepka made the cut at the U.S. Open but was not a threat to win after a dismal weekend, finishing 55th.
Several hours after reports emerged of his defection on Tuesday, the PGA Tour announced Koepka had withdrawn from this week’s Travelers Championship and would be replaced in the field by Mark Hubbard.
In a statement shared on social media Tuesday, Ancer wrote that at this point in his “very demanding golf career,” he was grateful for the opportunity to “spend more time with my family and friends.” The extra time, he added, will also help him “give back to the game by helping it to grow and flourish in my home country of Mexico.”
Ancer has one top-level win as a professional, at last year’s WGC St. Jude Invitational, and two top-10 finishes in majors, at the past two PGA Championships. Ancer also played for the International team at the 2019 Presidents Cup, compiling a 3-1-1 record at the match-play event, and likely would have appeared again at this year’s Presidents Cup, which is in September.
Ancer qualified for last weekend’s U.S. Open but withdrew shortly before the tournament began Thursday, citing an illness. He hasn’t played since tying for 32nd at the Memorial in early June.
“Abraham’s global reach and star power in Mexico and Latin America makes him a great fit for LIV Golf, which is committed to growing the sport on a global scale, particularly in new and emerging markets,” Norman said in a statement.
Saudi-funded LIV Golf reportedly has paid players such as Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed hundreds of millions of dollars simply to join the new league, which offers a lighter schedule; shorter, cut-free tournaments; and guaranteed prize money. In response, the PGA Tour announced this month that any players who join the new circuit will have their tour privileges revoked.
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For now, however, LIV golfers are allowed to play in golf’s four majors, which are not operated by the PGA Tour. That could change if the Official World Golf Ranking does not recognize the new tour, as most players earn entry to the majors via their ranking. Norman said Saturday that the new circuit is petitioning the OWGR for accreditation. Without it, LIV golfers will see their rankings plummet, making it unlikely they will qualify for majors unless they are past champions.
LIV Golf has been accused of “sportswashing” human-rights violations committed by the Saudi regime, among them the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Norman and other LIV supporters have countered that the new series will be good for the sport because it gives the golfers more control over their careers and finances.