The public feud between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka is among golf’s biggest storylines heading into this weekend’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. It might also make the two athletes millions.
Despite the fact that neither DeChambeau nor Koepka has won a tournament since March, both are among the most discussed golfers on tour since Koepka’s visible disgust for DeChambeau during a TV hit at the PGA Championship went viral. And this year, for the first time, the Tour is rewarding that buzz with cash.
Back in January the PGA Tour launched the Player Impact Program, a $40 million bonus pool that it plans to distribute at the end of the year among the 10 golfers that generate the most interest and exposure for the sport. The top golfer on the algorithm will make $8 million, followed by $6 million for the second, $3.5 million for third through sixth and $3 million apiece for the rest.
While the exact algorithm used to distribute the money hasn’t been disclosed, and the PGA Tour declined to provide specifics, much of the criteria is already known. And in many of those metrics—Google search trends, social media exposure, media mentions—both DeChambeau and Koepka have dominated the Tour in recent weeks.
“I think it’s good for the game,” Koepka told reporters last week of his rivalry with DeChambeau. “I really do. The fact that golf’s on pretty much every news outlet for about two weeks pretty consistently, I think that’s a good thing. It’s growing the game.”
One thing that viral moment has definitely grown is public interest in Koepka and DeChambeau. On May 23, the day of the final round of the PGA Championship, tournament winner Phil Mickelson dominated Google search traffic, with more than five times the number of searches as Koepka, the next closest golfer. Since May 25, however, the day the video leaked showing Koepka rolling his eyes as DeChambeau walked by, those two have been the most frequently searched golfers in the U.S., edging out Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, who round out the top five (Woods narrowly leads in worldwide searches).
Social media metrics tell a similar story. In the past 30 days, no golfer other than Mickelson has gained more followers than the two aforementioned attention-grabbers, who have each seen at least a 15% increase in Twitter followers and a 5% increase in Instagram followers in the past month. If you’re wondering the extent to which those numbers can be attributed to the feud specifically, note that Koepka gained 35,000 Instagram followers in the week following the PGA Championship, whereas Louis Oosthuizen, who tied with Koepka for second place in that event, added only 2,000.
This growth in followers is remarkable given the already impressive social media presence wielded by Koepka and DeChambeau. Over the past year as a whole, they rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in total social media engagements, per Opendorse.
The pair have also generated online buzz, aside from social media platforms. While more traditional media outlets in TV and radio may not be quite as captivated by the feud, it’s been perfect fodder for digital publications, who mentioned Koepka and DeChambeau more than any golfers other than Mickelson and Woods in the period from May 13 to June 14, per Apex Marketing Group.
The beef between the Koepka and DeChambeau has been years in the making, with the two trading barbs about everything from slow play, body image, Tour wins and even who would win in a fight. The last few weeks, however, it’s hit a new level.
At a tournament earlier this month, fans were jokingly taunting DeChambeau by calling him “Brooksy” after shots, and some of those fans were removed from the course. Koepka and one of his sponsors, beer-maker Michelob, turned it into a marketing opportunity.
“I know I’m not playing, but thank you guys for showing support,” Koepka said afterwards on Twitter, flashing a smile. “And if your time was, I don’t know, cut short, at the golf tournament today, DM Michelob Ultra, and we’re going to be giving out 50 cases of beer.”