Iona Stephen: “Zach Johnson can’t ignore LIV’s in-form stars”


Broadcaster Iona Stephen gives her view on Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship win, what it means for LIV and whether the rebel-tour’s players should appear in the Ryder Cup.

I’ll hold my hands up, I didn’t expect to see LIV players performing as well at the Majors as they have. Honestly, did you?

Brooks Koepka’s performance at the Masters and win at the PGA Championship is a big reminder of the strength they have within LIV and, ultimately, I think that will influence whether we see their players representing Team USA at this year’s Ryder Cup.

Koepka currently sits second in the automatic qualifying positions and even if he slips down them, it will surely prove difficult for Zach Johnson to ignore a man who has five Major titles and thrives in big events.

Brooks Koepka won by two shots at Oak Hill to win his third PGA Championship.

Then there’s Koepka’s old adversary Bryson DeChambeau, who seemed to find something at Oak Hill. And that’s before we even consider Dustin Johnson, whose form has been superb since his big-money move to the Saudi-backed Tour, and ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed, who has finished inside the top five at Augusta and top 20 at the PGA.

Perhaps the only dilemma for Captain Johnson will be how the presence of LIV players could impact the camaraderie of his team. Would their presence prove detrimental to team spirit and encourage lots of noise in a week when he’ll need his players to be fully focused? There have been many occasions when Team USA has been by far the strongest on paper but has come unstuck because their bond hasn’t been as tight as we’ve seen in the European camp.

Iona Stephen believes Zach Johnson could face a dilemma when it comes to LIV players in his Ryder Cup team.

For me, it would be a shame if at least two of them weren’t involved. Ultimately the Ryder Cup would be a better competition with them as part of that team because they remain among the world’s best players and with the USA looking to end their dismal run on European soil it could prove impossible to ignore Big Bad Brooks and co.

But whatever happens with the Ryder Cup, it was great that the golf, rather than the friction between the tours, dominated the narrative at the PGA Championship. It’s an event that has struggled to find an identity, but seeing Michael Block, a regular PGA pro, perform the way he did and make that hole-in-one while playing with Rory will ensure this year’s tournament is talked about for years to come.

Michael Block and Brooks Koepka stole all the headlines at the PGA Championship.

And despite his LIV links, Koepka’s win was widely well received. Perhaps that comes down to people feeling less anger towards the 33-year-old for making the move than they have with some other players. Plus, everyone loves a comeback story – just look at the way Rory, one of the biggest LIV critics, waited to greet Koepka with a bear hug and a huge smile after the round.

It was a good week for Koepka, who was named in the top 20 of Forbes Sports List of the highest earners – unsurprising considering the fee he commanded to join LIV.

But the big-hitting American has always been open about his decision – as discussed in Netflix documentary Full Swing, he was struggling with injury and had reached a low point in his career where he genuinely didn’t know how much golf he had left in his body. He was offered a massive payday in return for playing less golf and was safe in the knowledge that his achievements in the Majors would see him into those events for the foreseeable future anyway and, ultimately, they’re the events that have always seemed to matter most to him.

Brooks Koepka in Full Swing.

But I wondered if LIV’s players would find the Majors too tough this year. I was concerned they would be lacking in competitive practice and that the difference between three and four-round tournaments could prove decisive. Of course, it could be that there’s a rollover in sharpness from the PGA Tour and any decline may come with time, but the more I think about it the more I believe the lighter schedule could allow further LIV players to come into the reckoning at the big four, assuming they can qualify.

They have less pressure on them week-to-week and more time to recover in between events, which feels like it just plays into the hands of the likes of Koepka, DeChambeau and DJ. These guys have already honed their craft, been there and done it all, so they don’t need to be out there every week.

Dustin Johnson broke the Masters scoring record in 2020.

The PGA Tour can be physically and mentally grueling, but now these guys can keep some energy in the tank and hit the Majors like a bat out of hell. It could be that PGA Tour players face a challenge to keep up.

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About the author

Iona Stephen is a golf broadcaster and writes for Today's Golfer.

Iona Stephen – Broadcaster and Today’s Golfer contributor

Iona Stephen is a former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, and is a highly-respected golf broadcaster.

She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.

Stephen’s career has seen her work for Sky Sports Golf, CBS, the BBC, and NBC Golf Channel covering everything from The Masters and The Open, to the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. She has also hosted prize presentations to a global audience at some of the DP World Tour’s flagship events.

The Scotswoman is as comfortable covering the game from the commentary booth as she is broadcasting in front of the camera and from the course, where she is regularly seen interviewing the world’s best players during their rounds.

Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona – which has welcomed guests including Jon Rahm, Niall Horan, Rick Shiels, Bronte Law, and Martin Slumbers.

She is also the first-ever female on-course commentator in EA Sports gaming history and can be heard on PGA Tour Road to The Masters.

Outside of golf, Stephen is an ambassador for the charity BIG CHANGE, supporting young people throughout the UK to thrive in life, not just exams. She also has an interest in optimizing health and energy for elite performance in sports and life and has a diploma in sports nutrition and a level 2 PT qualification.

She is also a mentor as part of the Stephen Gallagher Foundation buddy system and has a degree in history of art from the University of St Andrews.

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