SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Fifteen months ago – June 22, 2022, to be exact – Brooks Koepka officially joined LIV Golf, a move that allowed him to play alongside his younger brother Chase as teammates on Smash GC.
It was a unique opportunity for the Koepka brothers, who had rarely seen each other in recent years as Brooks focused on winning majors and playing on the PGA Tour while Chase sought to make his mark on various developmental tours around the world.
“Our schedules never matched up,” Chase said. “Now they’re matched up and it’s awesome being able to spend time together. Our relationship has gotten better.”
But now a potential breakup looms. Not by choice, of course, but by performance.
Chase enters LIV Golf Chicago as one of four players in the Drop Zone on the individual points standings. Non-captains ranked 45th or worse after the regular season will be relegated out of the league. Chase currently ranks 48th with just one point. He has this week’s event and next month’s tournament in Jeddah to climb out of the Drop Zone.
Otherwise, he’ll be relegated, which means he’ll have no status for the 2024 LIV Golf League unless he plays his way back in during the promotional tournament later this year.
In essence, Brooks may be forced to jettison his own brother from the Smash lineup unless things improve.
The situation is urgent, to say the least. That’s why they’ve practiced together every day the past two weeks in the lead-up to Rich Harvest Farms. While Brooks has been priming his game for next week’s Ryder Cup, he’s also been helping Chase solve the issues that have led to this predicament.
It’s a perspective that’s familiar to Brooks, as he struggled with his own play while battling injuries before pulling himself out of it in the last year with two LIV Golf wins as well as his fifth major victory in May at the PGA Championship.
“I told him, I've been through that stretch where you're not playing well,” Brooks said. “He's working hard, I'll give him that. That's why I haven't gotten on him. I'm proud of him. He's gutted through this thing, and eventually it's going to turn right side up, and that's what I just keep telling him. I've been in those shoes two years ago. It will come around.”
But will it come around in time for Chase to keep his spot on the Smash roster? He has six regular-season rounds left to make a move.
“It’s all in my hands,” Chase said. “If I play well, I can get myself out of it. It’s not like this is the first time anyone’s been in this situation and played their way out of it. It can be done. Luckily, I’ve got two weeks. If it doesn’t happen this week, it can happen in Jeddah.”
For it to happen, he’ll need to solve the issues with his short game.
Chase is currently ranked 47th in scrambling, and 46th in putting this season. Those rankings are out of 48 LIV Golf regulars. Since he’s not a bomber like his older brother, Chase must rely on his short game to score. But it just hasn’t happened for him this season – and as he struggled to find a solution, it impacted other parts of his game.
“Honestly, it’s been bad, to the point where I felt like I had the chipping yips,” Chase admitted. “It’s not been fun.”
He and Brooks have focused on hitting the reset button. They’ve put in long hours, arriving at the gym at 6 a.m. and not returning from practice until 8 p.m. Putting and chipping games have been intense. The goal was to make practices so hard that playing a competitive round actually would be easier.
Meanwhile, they’ve tried to adjust Chase’s approach. Stop concentrating on the results and just go out and play golf. “Not results-focused this week,” Brooks said. “Trying to switch that up and not put so much pressure on himself.”
Smash teammate Jason Kokrak liked what he saw of Chase’s game during an early practice round at Rich Harvest Farms.
“He knows the urgency of what’s in front of him,” Kokrak said. “We can feel it too. We’ve been with the kid for two years. Right now, all we can do is let him go and get it. We can only help him so much. Hold him up, give him some confidence, support him. It’s crunch time. It’s up to him to make that jump. I hope he can just get out of his own way and play some golf.”
The stars couldn’t be aligned more properly for a big week for Chase.
Last year at Rich Harvest Farms, he tied for eighth on the traditional leaderboard and finished ninth in points; it’s his best result in 18 regular-season LIV starts. So, he should have good vibes on the course.
There’s also the party-hole element on the par-3 17th, mimicking the Watering Hole in Adelaide earlier this year. Chase, if you recall, had the shot of the season in the final round in Australia when he produced a hole-in-one and set off a raucous celebration with flying drinks and endless chest bumps.
“Tell you what – I’m gonna get a lot of boos if I don’t repeat, which will be a tough ask,” Chase said with a smile. “But I think it’s awesome we’re able to do a hole here in the states.”
And in the first round, he’ll play with Smash teammates Kokrak and Matthew Wolff, as all non-captains will be playing together as teammates on Friday. “He’ll be comfortable with Wolff and myself,” Kokrak said. “It’ll settle him down, especially from the start.”
Ultimately, though, Chase’s fate for next season will be decided with his performance. If he can find his short game this week, he can produce a good-enough result to move outside the Drop Zone and give himself some breathing room going into Jeddah.
If he doesn’t, then he’ll go to Saudi Arabia in mid-October facing do-or-die pressure. Having just become an uncle to Brooks’ newborn son Crew, Chase dearly wants to maintain a parallel schedule to his brother, sharing in family get-togethers as well as sharing common goals as teammates.
“He’s rooting for me to play well and get out of the situation that I’m in,” Chase said. “We’re both rooting for each other. If you ask him, the first name he looks for on the leaderboard is my name. And it’s the same thing when I look for his name.
“We stick together as brothers and push each other as hard as we can. That’s why this is so special.”