Graeme McDowell handed LIV lifeline as part of Brooks Koepka's Smash team

Graeme McDowell - Graeme McDowell handed LIV lifeline as part of Brooks Koepka's Smash team
Graeme McDowell found himself stranded when he came 40th in this year’s standing - Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

Graeme McDowell has been handed a LIV lifeline by Brooks Koepka with the Irishman set to be announced as a new member of the Smash team in the breakaway league.

McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner who became a Ryder Cup legend when holing the winning putt at Celtic Manor in the same year, was almost certain he would be released by LIV last month after finishing outside the top 24 in the 48-man series.

While fellow Europe greats Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson were handed longer contracts, McDowell only negotiated a two-year deal when he signed before LIV’s first event 18 months ago.

He proceeded to feature heavily in the build-up and was regularly put up for press conferences, where he felt obliged to answer questions on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

“I was not a paid ambassador for Saudi Arabia’s human rights. I was a paid ambassador for a golf tour,” McDowell said in a recent interview.

“You start answering questions that can’t be answered. I regret those answers, not that they were necessarily wrong; that was what we had been prepped to say by this golf tour that’s paying me.

“I’m not being paid by the Saudi Arabian human rights organisation, I’m being paid by this new start-up golf tour, which is a financially lucrative opportunity for me at this stage in my career. The end.

“Of course, it was about the money. It didn’t need to be said. Of course, that’s what I was there for - it was a business decision.”

The saga also pitched him against Rory McIlroy, once his closest confidante but who became the most vocal critic of LIV, accusing his former Ryder Cup teammates of “betrayal”.

Yet despite having his reputation besmirched and amassing earnings of more than £4 million in 22 events, the former world No 4 found himself stranded when he came 40th in this year’s standings.

McDowell might have hoped to be retained by the Cleeks captain Martin Kaymer, but his Ryder Cup teammate expressed his intention to look elsewhere and McDowell appeared to be out in the cold.

Another member of Kaymer’s four-man squad, Bernd Wiesberger, decided to re-apply for membership of the DP World Tour and Telegraph Sport revealed last week that after LIV paid his outstanding £1.5 million fine, the Austrian would be welcomed back on his home circuit.

However, it is understood that under the terms of his LIV contract, McDowell would have been required to pay the financial penalty out of his own pocket. He would have anxiously been awaiting the news of the ongoing talks between the PGA Tour and DP World Tour with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which bankrolls LIV.

However, those peace discussions can, at best, be described as uncertain, with little to no prospect of any white smoke emerging in the next six months.

Five-time major winner Koepka’s patronage, therefore, is a huge boost for McDowell, the popular competitor from Portrush. The Smash team is far more likely to fare better in LIV’s team competition than the Cleeks, who now need two players to join Kaymer and English veteran Richard Bland.

“I’m not sure McDowell can believe his luck,” an insider said. “Obviously, all was not rosy on the Cleeks and with G-Mac and Kaymer. He thought he was out of LIV and would have to be participating on the Asian Tour next year. Playing alongside Koepka – probably the best player on LIV – is a massive result for him.”

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