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Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka will have to earn a pairing this week

SAN DIEGO – Tee-time reveals are typically a perfunctory assignment. A few featured groups, a couple of ha-ha pairings, and then it’s on to the next piece of preview content. But Tuesday’s 8 a.m. release of the early-round groupings here at the 121st U.S. Open offered at least a modicum of intrigue: Would the USGA, never afraid of either controversy or chaos, lump together Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau (plus some unfortunate third wheel who may be forced to play peacekeeper)?

No, of course not.

DeChambeau was in his customary position as defending champion, along with the reigning U.S. Amateur champion (Tyler Strafaci) and, in a COVID twist, because the 2020 Open was canceled, this year’s Masters winner (Hideki Matsuyama). Koepka, meanwhile, is in a ho-hum, former-major-winner group with Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa.

So, how close was the Brooks-Bryson grouping to actually happening?

U.S. Open: Full-field tee times | Full coverage

Former Tour player Brad Faxon said on SiriusXM radio that the USGA called DeChambeau and his agent, Brett Falkoff, “to ask if they would be OK with that, and Bryson declined.”

That was news to DeChambeau, who responded: “I would be OK with that (pairing), but there was never really anything that went through me.”

But what about through his manager? Well, Falkoff on Tuesday told that Faxon’s comment was “totally false.”

“No one from the USGA ever reached out to Brooks and Bryson,” he said. “It’s the USGA. It’s their choice. I don’t know why this pairing was such a surprise to anybody.”

And so there’s nothing left now other than to have a weekend faceoff, and not when they’re tied for 37th. Pitting them together in the first two rounds at Torrey Pines would have been a fun early story, a round that would have been dissected in forensic detail, and it would have drawn in a non-golf audience that tuned in waiting for a brawl only to be disappointed by what surely would unfold: a handshake on the first tee, a quiet five hours, a handshake on 18.

When asked whether conflict was good for golf, as it so often is in other sports, Koepka said: “I don’t know if I’d call it conflict – we just don’t like each other.”

Over the past month Koepka has been unapologetic about how the whole episode has unfolded. He didn’t care that the unaired video was made public and went viral. He didn’t care that he disparaged a peer. He didn’t care that you might not have cared for what could be perceived as bullying behavior.

“I’m worried about what I’ve got to do and what I’m doing,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not concerned about what other people think. If I was concerned about what everybody else thought, I’d have been in a world of pain.”

DeChambeau has also tried to shrug off the drama, saying that it’s “been in good fun” and “great banter.” He even opined that a weekend showdown would be “great for the game.” But he finds himself in a far more undesirable position than Koepka: Stay quiet, and he’ll continue to get asked for his reaction, all of the noise causing a distraction. Push back, and he risks further inflaming the situation, to the point that “Brooksy!” will be the kindest thing he’ll hear throughout a round.

Conflict between superstars is nothing new, not even in this genteel sport. What’s unusual this time is how Koepka’s raw feelings were laid bare for 10 million people to see. Today’s pros are usually too image-conscious to mix it up publicly but for the first time there’s the prospect of the Player Impact Program, with the top needle-mover bringing in an extra $8 million. There are a bunch of confusing metrics involved but, hey, take it from a media professional about how this works: Conflict = content = cash. That’s why everything that has happened since that stolen moment – the sarcastic apology to Aaron Rodgers, the defense in the Instagram comments, the beer promo – can be viewed skeptically through that lens. It’s likely no coincidence that Koepka has leaned in and mentioned for a second time how their riff has been on every news channel or a top headline. Their PIP stock keeps soaring.

An early-round grouping may have been enough to secure a top-5 finishing position, but the USGA didn’t hand them that freebie. They’ll have to earn it themselves. Preferably on Sunday night, when the mic would be theirs alone.