NEW-LOOK CLEEKS EYE 2024 WITH HIGH HOPES AFTER MERONK SIGNING
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – As the all-European Cleeks head into this week's season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico, they will be looking for greater consistency this year after a 2023 LIV Golf League campaign that began poorly before finishing with a flourish.
To that end, Cleeks GC has made two significant changes to its roster with 2023 DP World Tour Player of the Year Adrian Meronk and 2023 LIV Golf Promotions champion Kalle Samooja coming in to join forces with team captain Martin Kaymer and the ultra-consistent Richard Bland.
Polish player Meronk and Samooja of Finland were signed up to fill the roster spots left open after Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland finished 41st and 42nd respectively in last year's Individual Standings and were not re-signed by the team as free agents.
The new-look Cleeks now have every reason to target the 2024 LIV Golf League with lofty expectations. Englishman Bland was a model of consistency for them last year, producing three top-nine finishes in his last five starts, while Kaymer showed signs late in the year of returning to his best form after missing the first three tournaments of 2023 due to offseason wrist surgery.
With the addition of world No. 42 Meronk, a four-time winner on the DP World Tour, and 2022 European Open champion Samooja, Cleeks GC certainly will have an extra spring in its collective step this season.
"I'm really looking forward to the new challenge and the next chapter of my career as I team up with Martin and the Cleeks," said Meronk. "While I appreciate this decision didn't come easy, joining LIV Golf is a very special moment for my career. I am very excited to be here. I have been very well welcomed by the team, which was super nice. They have made me feel like I'm at home so I am very excited for this week, and starting my new journey."
Meronk, who became the first player from Poland to win on the DP World Tour with a 3-stroke victory at the 2022 Horizon Irish Open, will be looking to give the Cleeks an immediate boost at LIV Golf Mayakoba where last year they ended up as the only team among the 12 to finish over par for the week.
The one bright spot was the early form shown by McDowell, who fired a 4-under 67 in the second round at El Camaleon on the way to 13th place on the individual leaderboard with a 4-under total of 209.
Next best for Cleeks GC was straight-hitting Englishman Bland, who wound up in 30th position after closing with a level-par 71, while Wiesberger ended up in 44th spot at 11 over, also after signing off with a 71.
As the Cleeks look ahead to the rest of the 14-tournament LIV Golf League this season, they will want to maintain consistent golf week by week, unlike last year when their prospects looked somewhat bleak by the midway point. After the first eight LIV Golf events of 2023, Cleeks GC had racked up five 12th-place finishes, along with just two top-10s.
Then came the team's strong finish to the regular season as they went 6-7-9-9 before ending with a flourish to secure their first podium spot of the year with third place on the team leaderboard at LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN.
Weisberger and McDowell both signed off with sizzling 7-under 63s at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Bland closed with a 66 and Kaymer carded a 70 as the team earned their seventh top-10 of the season, and their fifth in a row. Their three counting scores delivered an 18-under total, the best of any of the 12 teams on that last day.
"What the Cleeks did in Jeddah was very impressive, shooting those low scores on Sunday to get on the podium for the first time," said former world number one Kaymer. "I didn't mind being the worst scorer on that Sunday! That's a very good sign when we shoot 18-under par."
Kaymer is hugely relieved to be back to full fitness with his wrist surgery now very much in his rear-view mirror.
"The last two or three events that we played last year, I was definitely on the up and I was going in the right direction," said the 39-year-old German. "So, in the winter time, I could practice really nicely in Spain. I need to play better for the Cleeks. Richard had a decent season last year and the other two guys, they played fine but, overall, we just need to play a little bit better. Richard, he can do his thing and I just need to get my stuff together, which finally I can now do. I know what I need to do, and I feel really motivated for this season."