Earlier this year, Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka joined forces as syndicate co-owners of an Irish-bred racehorse named Givemefive. The two major winners had been discussing horses for a while, and when G-Mac became intrigued about purchasing the flat runner and converting him to a hurdler, he made Koepka aware of the unique opportunity.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Koepka had just won the PGA Championship in May for his fifth career major victory. If ever there was a time to bet on a horse’s name, this was it.
“I’m like, mate, this is a perfect horse for you,” McDowell said about the sales pitch. “You just won your fifth and this boy’s called Givemefive.”
On Tuesday, McDowell and Koepka became partners again – this time on a turf more suited to their own abilities, as G-Mac signed a contract to join Koepka’s Smash GC for the 2024 LIV Golf League season.
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, fills the vacancy left by Koepka’s brother Chase, who was among four LIV golfers relegated after finishing the 2023 season ranked 45th or below in the season-long Individual points standings (otherwise known as the Drop Zone).
The move ends McDowell’s time with Cleeks GC, the team he played for in his last 20 LIV Golf starts dating back to the third event of the inaugural beta-test 2022 season. McDowell’s contract expired after the 2023 season, and since he finished in the Open Zone as the 42nd-ranked player, he entered free agency with some uncertainty.
“It’s been a difficult time the last couple of months, obviously being out of contract and looking at the rankings and doing the math and realizing there wasn’t really going to be a lot of open opportunities and open slots within LIV for me to be able to slot into,” McDowell said. “Being able to have relationships and have respect levels from guys like Brooks was really, really important. …
“I was disappointed that the Cleeks wanted to move in a different direction, didn’t want to pick me up. But I guess sometimes things happen for a reason. I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.”
Unlike Chase, G-Mac isn’t family, but Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott is practically an older brother, the two having grown up in Portrush, Northern Ireland, and now living near each other in Orlando, Florida. G-Mac even helped Elliott land Brooks’ bag. They’ve been together for pivotal moments in each other’s lives.
McDowell was careful not to lean too heavily into his friendship with Elliott to land the Smash roster spot, but … well, it never hurts to chat with a fellow Ulsterman over a pint.
“I obviously didn’t want to put Ricky in a tough situation with Brooks and kind of be an advocate for me coming to Smash next year,” McDowell said, “but certainly there were plenty of whispers in the ears over a few beers, trying to kind of say, Hey, listen, how cool would this be? Can you put a good word in for me with the chief?”
Just as instrumental – if not more so – is that McDowell and Koepka have been close friends for many years, bonding over their shared competitive mindset. They fall into the same category of golf’s grittiest performers despite the disparate ways they attack the golf course off the tee.
Although Koepka won the individual title at LIV Golf Orlando and finished in a bonus-paying third position in the season-long standings, his Smash team fell short of expectations, finishing eighth in regular-season points and failing to advance out of the quarterfinals at the Team Championship.
Adding the 44-year-old McDowell should pay dividends not only inside the ropes but also in the team room. If the 33-year-old Koepka needs a sounding board or help for organizational matters, he can lean on G-Mac.
“He likes great competitors,” G-Mac said of his new captain. “I think that’s why we’ve always had a little bit of mutual respect for each other. He sees a little bit of himself in me, and vice-versa. …
“I feel like I bring that little bit of experience and that little bit of grit and determination and hopefully can help Brooks carry some of the load and carry some of the water and give him the opportunity just to go and be the best he can be. Help him handle some of the team logistics and the team media stuff and whatever it is he needs me to be, I’m certainly ready and willing to be that guy for him. And obviously first and foremost, play as hard as I can and see if I can go and be competitive next season and win a tournament.”
Koepka’s wager is that McDowell will produce improved results with his new team. In 20 stroke-play LIV starts, McDowell remains without a top-10 points finish; his best result in 12th. He’s finished inside the points-producing top 24 just five times – three in 13 regular-season starts in 2023.
A classic U.S. Open-type 72-hole grinder, G-Mac acknowledged the difficulties of adjusting to LIV’s 54-hole tournaments that generally require a fast start out of the gate and a shorter backstretch to make up ground. A poor round is severely penalized with the reduced competition timeframe.
He’s worked on changing his style, playing more aggressive – and he thinks the fresh start with Smash and teaming up with Koepka will generate better finishes.
“I know what I’m still capable of,” McDowell said. “I really feel like I’ve started to play great the last few months and I’m just missing that little bit of X factor – and I feel like the X factor’s going to come from the pressure of trying to hang with a guy like Brooks Koepka, who’s one of the best players in the world, the intensity and the mentality that he brings. I think it’s just what I need for myself to see if I can produce the golf that I know I’m still capable of.
“I’m hoping ‘24 is going to be the comeback season for me. Compete, try and win an event or two. Like I say, perfect timing for me right now.”
Even more perfect timing – Givemefive may be running his first hurdles race on Saturday at Newcastle Racecourse in England. After months of training, it’s time to compete as a hurdler during the United Kingdom’s winter jump season when the track is a bit softer. The multi-race program – that includes a distinguished Grade 1 hurdle race called The Fighting Fifth – could make for a nice coming-out party for the horse.
“He’s a two-miler plus,” McDowell said. “So he’s a little grinder as well.”
Sounds like another terrific fit for the Smash stable.
Image: LIV Golf