For all the chest-beating and tweeting to promote their upcoming meeting, new BFFs Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka have embraced a notion perfectly ideal for their budding bromance: if they make enough noise, people just might listen. Some folks call it marketing. Others call it nonsense, sort of like staging a feud to bolster one’s Q-rating. Regardless, Friday’s 12-hole showdown will feature a lower quotient of starpower than the four previous versions of this series.
DeChambeau and Koepka aren’t exactly crossover material when it comes to drawing a mainstream viewing audience. This particular made-for-TV muckabout desperately needs the Tiger-and-Phil factor to have any chance of justifying its existence. Mickelson will be calling the action for TNT alongside Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley, but grandma doesn’t tune in to hear Lefty run his mouth.
More announcers than competitors? Hmmm. Sounds like a gum-flapping festival with a hundred or so golf shots sprinkled in.
That’s what this shindig was built for — heavy on the sizzle with nothing at stake. Speaking of nothing, that’s what DeChambeau and Koepka have been doing since that hilarious thumping the U.S. laid on Europe two months ago at the Ryder Cup. The Brawny Brainiac has yet to make his 2021-22 PGA Tour debut. Neither have a lot of guys, for that matter, but none of them are squaring off against their personal antagonist — the same dude who kept their pseudo-feud alive for most of the summer — with a pot-of-gold’s worth of bragging rights on the line.
Speaking of Koepka, he has played in four Tour events this fall, and it should be noted, not very well. He returns to Las Vegas off back-to-back missed cuts in Mexico and Houston. Koepka’s best performance in those four starts was a T-38 on his last trip to Sin City, which was five weeks ago, a stretch that has seen him tumble from ninth to 16th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
With each passing appearance, Koepka looks more and more like the solid-but-unspectacular tour pro of his early days than the big-game maestro who won four major titles between June 2017 and May 2019. That’s a lot of heavy lifting in 23 months, even for a buff physical specimen whose body has betrayed him on numerous occasions over the last 2-½ years.
It’s not just the effects of the injuries themselves, but the rehab time and subsequent rust-removal process. With all that shaping the big picture, Koepka simply hasn’t been the same player. Too many misses inside 6 feet. Too many drives sailing left — a side of the golf course Koepka rarely visited before knee issues began curbing his ability to fly a 300-yard fade off the box without a care in the world.
Despite his own beastly lashes with the driver, DeChambeau has remained injury-free, at least below the neck. He has managed just one victory in the last 15 months, and though that came against a premium field at Bay Hill, he failed to crack the top 25 at any of the four majors held in 2021. That gravity-defying, final-nine meltdown at the U.S. Open seemed to knock the SMU physics major off his tracks. It would have been a much bigger story if Jon Rahm hadn’t turned into a superhero down the stretch.
DeChambeau dominated Patrick Cantlay from tee to green at the second FedEx Cup playoff event but couldn’t make a thing when it mattered most. Cantlay’s scalding putter made all the difference in what was clearly year’s most exhilarating finish; he locked up the season-long sweepstakes the following week.
So it was a good year for BDC, not a great one. Far better than Koepka’s, which is why DeChambeau is an easy pick to win the 12-holer on Friday. He was an ever-so-slight favorite when the sportsbook industry began posting odds last month. DraftKings had both players at -110 in late October. Koepka’s recent lackluster form has bumped him to +100 at the same shop, but that payoff has emerged as an outlier compared to other prices.
A dozen holes of hit-and-giggle is a difficult proposition to predict for anyone, especially the oddsmakers themselves, so we turn to that funky intangible known as common sense. Koepka hasn’t played this poorly for this long in quite a while. After missing the cut at the Masters, he was his usual omnipresent self at the majors, finishing T-6 or better at all three, but the British Open was his last top 20 anywhere.
That’s how the big boy rolls. At tournaments of huge significance and historical prestige, Koepka is fully engaged and highly effective. At gatherings that really don’t matter, he’s just another man in the field. They don’t come any more meaningless than Friday’s tee party.