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Golf’s most bitter rivalry comes to Las Vegas on Friday

Updated November 26, 2021 - 2:25 am

As the U.S. Ryder Cup team celebrated its record-breaking victory in September, teammates coaxed longtime rivals Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau to hug it out.

Some interpreted the move as an end to their grudge, or at least a softening of harsh feelings. That’s simply not the case, the two insisted this week in advance of their match Friday at Wynn Golf Club.

“I wouldn’t put much on a forced hug,” Koepka said.

The two major champions may be playing on the Las Vegas Strip, where hyping up sporting events is a regular occurrence. But there’s little doubt that Koepka and DeChambeau are anything but friends.

“I never really liked him,” Koepka said of his opponent, who he recalls meeting for the first time at Augusta in 2016 when they were paired for a round.

DeChambeau returned the favor, saying Koepka carries himself with an air that isn’t fit for golf.

“My first impression of him was he was cocky,” DeChambeau said. “Like he’s really too cool for this game.”

Golf’s most bitter rivalry arrives in Las Vegas on Friday for a made-for-TV event, the fifth in a series of matches that began with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson playing at Shadow Creek three years ago.

It pits DeChambeau, the longest hitter in golf with a talent for rubbing many the wrong way, against Koepka, the athletic, four-time major champion who plays to win without playing the customary PR game.

Neither comes to Las Vegas with much of a track record in recent weeks. DeChambeau hasn’t been seen in a PGA Tour event since September, having skipped the entire fall season. Koepka played four times, finishing 38th at the CJ Cup, 67th at the Shriners Children’s Open and missing two cuts.

DeChambeau said the time off was necessary to rest after a long season.

“My body was just super tired,” DeChambeau said, while also noting he’s busy with about a dozen businesses and his charity work.

“Life isn’t all about golf,” he said.

But these two months off have also been about finding even more power and distance, a seemingly never-ending quest for the man known as The Scientist for all his tinkering away from the course.

Whether DeChambeau will bring any awe to Friday’s match is one reason for spectators to tune in — since actually attending isn’t an option for local golf fans who are locked out.

Asked for other reasons why anybody should care, DeChambeau consistently turned to the charity elements of the match. He said without a lot of money going to organizations in need, he wouldn’t play.

For Koepka, he said it’s a chance to put DeChambeau in his place.

“With all that’s gone on over the past two years, eventually it’s come to this,” he said. “Nobody will put us together, so we have to do it ourselves.”

The funny thing about this feud is neither player will elaborate on the exact source of their disdain. Koepka did call out DeChambeau years ago as a prime example of glacier-like slow play, and DeChambeau complained about the comment to Koepka’s caddie — but not Koepka — on a practice green shortly after that. It’s been constant jabbing on social media and through the media ever since.

But why it exploded into the feud it has become remains between the two men, who will spend 12 holes together Friday. The official explanation for that number is it was chosen to fit the broadcast into a specific television window, but Koepka says there’s another reason.

“Eighteen (holes) with him is a long time to be around him,” Koepka said.

Both players expect a good amount of trash talk on the course, although Koepka says he’s already won that aspect over the past few years.

DeChambeau doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m in his head. He talks about me all the time,” he said of Koepka. “Listen, he can try to bully me, but he’s not doing a very good job of it.”

Will the feud be put to bed after Friday? That’s highly unlikely, but at least fans might get a little bit of satisfaction, both players said.

“The whole world wants to see it,” Koepka said of agreeing to play. “I’m a man of the people.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

How to watch The Match 5

When: 1 p.m. Friday

Where: Wynn Golf Course

TV: TNT, TBS, HLN, truTV

Announcers: Brian Anderson, Phil Mickelson, Charles Barkley, Amanda Balionis

Format: 12 holes of match play; select holes have been chosen to be played in a random order

Challenges: Closest to the pin, long drive and other special contests will be held to raise additional money for charity

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