By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
NORTH PLAINS, Ore. (AP) — Four months after suggesting those who defected to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series were sellouts, Brooks Koepka explained Tuesday that he simply changed his mind.
Koepka signed with LIV Golf last week for its first event on American soil, which starts Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge west of Portland.
It was a stunning reversal for the four-time major champion, who was once an outspoken critic of the fledgling series that seeks to challenge the PGA Tour.
“Opinions change. I feel very comfortable with the decision I made. I’m happy, and did what’s best for me,” Koepka said.
In February, Koepka said of LIV Golf: “They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”
Former world No. 1 and fellow four-time major winner Rory McIlroy suggested last week that Koepka and others were duplicitous “to say one thing and then do another thing.”
“Look, he’s entitled to his opinion. He can think whatever he wants,” Koepka responded. “He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family, I’m going to do what’s best for me and my family. Can’t hate on anybody for that, and like I said, opinions change, man.”
Koepka cited a knee injury that has taken a toll on his body and the desire to spend more time with his family as factors in his decision. He did not mention the multimillion-dollar signing bonuses LIV Golf — which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund — has handed to players. Koepka is one of the biggest names, along with Dustin Johnson and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson.
And there’s more money to be made: The 48-man field will compete for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition. Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event outside London and took home $4.75 million. LIV tournaments are played over 54 holes with no cut, and even the last-place finisher gets paid.
Players who spoke to reporters on Tuesday skirted questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
“I understand the topics you’re trying to bring up, and they’re horrible events, but I’m here to play golf. That’s my deal,” said Pat Perez, a three-time PGA Tour winner who also spoke against LIV Golf before changing his mind. “I’ve got an opportunity to play golf, and that’s it.”
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, pointed to the good he plans to do in his community with the money he’s making from LIV Golf.
“I think as time goes on, hopefully people will see the good that they are doing and what they are trying to accomplish rather than looking at the bad that’s happened before,” DeChambeau said. “I think moving on from that is important, and going and continuing to move forward in a positive light is something that could be a force for good for the future of the game.”
The mayor of North Plains, as well as 10 other local mayors, wrote a letter to the Texas-based owners of Pumpkin Ridge, saying the upstart league does not align with their values because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said the tour is an example of sportswashing, in which countries use sporting events as a way to distract or minimize human rights abuses. He has pointed to the hit-and-run death of an Oregon teenager: The Saudi national accused in the case fled before trial.
The PGA Tour has sought fight off the threat posed by LIV Golf by disciplining players. The tour suspended every active member who competed in the first LIV event. Those who play in Oregon will also be suspended unless they resign their tour memberships.
Perez said the PGA Tour’s tactics have backfired.
“You want to be able to play anywhere you want. And you should be able to play wherever you want. We should be able to do whatever we want. We are independent contractors,” Perez said. “The (PGA) Tour has tried to strong-arm us all year and come with bans and suspensions and all that, and how’d that work? Look how many guys are here. That didn’t work at all.”
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