Linus remains the sole gatekeeper for what goes or doesn't go in the kernel
You're free to release your kernel with whatever patches you want to approve or reject just as much as Linus can.
In fact - just about every major distro works that way - applying not necessarily the exact same set of patches that Linus does.
Of course many people trust Linus, so most distros follow him pretty closely.
But that's because people trust him - not that he's some magical "Gatekeeper".