Brooks Koepka is an alpha dog. We all know that. The Smash GC captain has been unquestionably the best player on his team through LIV Golf’s first two seasons.
But for 2024?
Eh, let’s not jump to conclusions.
In trading for Talor Gooch, Koepka is adding the reigning LIV Golf Individual Champion to the Smash roster. While winning three times as a member of RangeGoats GC in 2023, Gooch accumulated 192 points over the 13-tournament regular season – 40 points more than Koepka, who finished in third place, the last of the bonus-paying positions.
Gooch is one of the few players who have outperformed Koepka at LIV events during the first two seasons. Of the 19 regular-season events in which they’ve competed against each other, Gooch has produced the better result 11 times to Koepka’s eight.
Both have won three times in that span. Last year at LIV Golf Andalucía, they were in the leaders’ group on the final round, one shot apart. Gooch shot 67 to overtake Bryson DeChambeau for the win. Koepka shot 68 and settled for third.
Koepka responded against Gooch at the regular-season finale in Jeddah. Both finished regulation play at 14 under to force a playoff, which Koepka won on the second playoff hole. The runner-up finish, however, was good enough for Gooch to seal the season-long Individual title.
Just three captains have led their teams in points in each of the first two seasons – Koepka, Dustin Johnson of 4Aces GC and Cameron Smith of Ripper GC. While there’s certainly a hierarchy from the organizational standpoint with the captains, the competition inside the ropes is wide-open.
Koepka insists that he wants each member of his Smash team – Gooch, free-agent signee Graeme McDowell and holdover Jason Kokrak – to feel like they’re the top dog inside the ropes.
“I hope so,” Koepka said. “I hope [Gooch] thinks he’s the No. 1 guy on the team. That’s a good thing. That’s what I want. That’s the competitiveness we’ve been lacking.
“He’s a competitor. He’s gritty. Hope he comes in thinking he’s No. 1. I hope Jay thinks the same thing. I hope G-Mac thinks the same thing, because all that’s going to do is just drive everybody to play better and work harder. Success on the individual side for them and success for the team side.”
From Gooch’s standpoint, the internal competition against the five-time major winner should only help improve his game.
“Obviously, it’s Brooks’ team,” Gooch said. “He’s one of the best players of this generation. He’s the face of the team – and I’m excited to be there to hopefully make him the second-best scorer on the team over the next few years.
“We’re just doing this together and I don’t think either of us really care who’s No. 1 or 2 or anything like that. We want to be standing on the podium at the end of the week. That’s all we care about”
Gooch and Koepka have found themselves grouped several times in LIV Golf events thanks to their consistent appearances at the top of the leaderboard. That’s when Koepka began to realize that Gooch shared the same intensity for winning, even if he lacks the outsized reputation Koepka has earned through his major victories.
“Just liked his attitude, like the style of golf he plays,” Koepka said. “Just really liked him, getting to know him a little more over the last two, three years. It’s been fun.”
Fun wasn’t usually a description associated with Smash in 2023, as internal mid-season discord contributed to poor results. But in acquiring Gooch for Matthew Wolff and signing McDowell to fill the vacancy left by brother Chase Koepka’s relegation, Koepka feels like his revamped lineup is ready to make an impact in the team standings.
“I’m excited, especially with this group of guys,” the captain said.
From McDowell’s perspective, he isn’t surprised that Koepka gravitated towards wanting Gooch.
“I knew what Brooks' goals were for the team,” the 2010 U.S. Open winner said. “He really wants to build a sustainable team for the future, and I knew he was looking at a guy like Talor specifically, who was certainly under the radar eight months ago but no longer under the radar.
“He's a young, highly motivated, highly talented winner, and I know Brooks likes winners. He likes guys with a sort of extra tenacity – kind of who he is himself. I mean in golf, you kind of have your mega-talented flamboyant players that are maybe not closers. I think Brooks likes closers and I think that's what he looks to be himself.”
McDowell then revealed that his 7-year-old son Wills’ favorite player is Gooch, drawn in by the victories last year as well as Gooch’s tendency to wear his sunglasses on the back of his hat. Never underestimate the appeal of the cool factor.
Last year at the Team Championship in Miami, G-Mac had Gooch sign a cap for his son. Wills also ranks Koepka as among his favorites, too.
“I think dad’s probably in the top five of the world ranking of players he likes as well,” McDowell said with a smile.
Ah, rankings. McDowell doesn’t take offense that he’s not even No. 1 in his own home. No worries. As long as the Smash players are intent on beating each other on any given week, the rest should take care of itself.