BROOKLINE, Mass. — Historic moments are common on the U.S. Open, which is to be expected for a championship first held in 1895. But Thursday, within the opening round of the 122nd playing of the event, there was a notable first that may have been unthinkable even a month ago.
Fifteen golfers who recently spurned the established PGA Tour to align with an upstart, Saudi-backed circuit that has recruited recent members with lots of of tens of millions of dollars in inducements, would compete alongside the players they’d just deserted.
Oh, yes, and the national championship of golf was at stake.
The setting had all the weather of a stirring, emotional clash: an underlying sense of betrayal, accusations of soulless greed, the prospect of transformative change and a preferred, beloved figure trapped within the cynosure of the firestorm.
Nevertheless it seems elite golf has an excessive amount of decorum for all that.
Consider the scene as Phil Mickelson, the six-time major champion and the best-known defector to the LIV Golf Invitational series, prepared to start his round. Last weekend, Mickelson, who turned 52 on Thursday, was reportedly paid $200 million to be the star attraction of the rebel LIV Golf tour, whose major shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
As Mickelson walked past a corridor of fans toward the course, he was enveloped in applause. The reception was not as zealously enthusiastic because it was a yr ago, when he won the P.G.A. Championship to turn out to be the oldest major champion ever, but it surely was passionate and animated.
By the point Mickelson stepped onto the primary tee, there have been whoops and whistles that had Mickelson tipping his cap. When the applause would diminish barely, Mickelson turned to his trademark gesture — a smile and a hearty thumbs up — that may reignite the ovation.
Dozens of fans yelled encouragement:
“Let’s go, Lefty.”
“We love you, Phil!”
The considerable majority of players who’ve remained loyal to the PGA Tour had privately wondered in recent days if the players now working for LIV Golf might hear booing on the Country Club. That didn’t occur. Not when Dustin Johnson, the top-ranked player to affix the brand new league last week, teed off within the group before Mickelson. Johnson’s greeting was muted but still affectionate.
As for Mickelson on the opening tee, he didn’t hear anything near jeering. He was, nonetheless, a minimum of teased comically by one fan. Mickelson has been renowned for his gambling habits, something Mickelson called “reckless and embarrassing” in an interview with Sports Illustrated last week.
Just before Mickelson struck his first shot Thursday, a fan on a hillside behind him bellowed: “Phil, Celtics three-and-half tonight, who do you want?”
Boston was tabbed as a 3.5-point favorite against Golden State in Game 6 of the N.B.A. finals Thursday night at TD Garden just a couple of miles away.
While a roar of laughter erupted from the gang, Mickelson kept his back turned. Then he smashed a drive onto the green and walked toward the opening as fans cheered and called his name.
More thumbs-up gestures. More cheers.
Earlier, on the practice range, any sense that there can be a bristling division between the LIV Golf-aligned players and people still dedicated to the PGA Tour evaporated as well.
Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion and a PGA Tour stalwart, approached Mickelson with a large smile and offered a fist bump. They conversed easily for a couple of seconds. Hitting balls to the left of Mickelson was Shane Lowry, who can be playing in the identical group on Thursday. Lowry has been emphatic — insistent really — that he is not going to join the rival tour. But Thursday he was also chatting pleasantly with Mickelson and the third member of their group, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who has also joined the LIV Golf series. If the underpinnings of skilled golf are indeed on the verge of being upended, as some have feared in recent days, it was not evident through the simple banter of this group, who’ve each won a minimum of one major championship.
As Mickelson’s round unfolded, it was obvious his game, which has been unsteady for a lot of months, had not improved. He bogeyed the primary and third holes and barely recovered, shooting an eight-over-par 78, which left him 12 strokes behind the first-round leader, Adam Hadwin of Canada. Mickelson’s fans groaned after his misses, clapped as he left the green and called out his name. Considered one of those fans loudly encouraging Mickelson was William Sullivan of Woburn, Mass.
Asked if he was surprised, or disenchanted, when Mickelson selected to play last week within the inaugural LIV Golf event near London, Sullivan shook his head and said: “Not likely.”
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
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A recent series. The brand new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what’s it? Who’s playing it? What’s all of the hubbub, and how will you watch it? Here’s what to know:
What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the very best level of professional golf for nearly a century.
Who’s playing it? The 48 players within the initial LIV Golf event weren’t exactly a who’s who of golf, and lots of of the most important names in the game, corresponding to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there have been big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.
What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
How can I watch the brand new tour? Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in america and will likely be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. In america, this week’s tournament will likely be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.
Reminded that the PGA Tour, the circuit where Mickelson has earned greater than $94 million, warned that any player joining LIV Golf can be suspended and maybe permanently banned, Sullivan grinned.
“Yeah, but what did they provide Phil — $200 million, right?” Sullivan asked. “Who wouldn’t take $200 million? I mean, to play golf?”
As Mickelson turned toward the fourth hole, a single voice shouted in his direction: “Sellout!”
Mickelson didn’t react.
Across the golf course on Thursday, 12 groups were a mixture of LIV Golf and PGA Tour players. One comprised Jon Rahm of Spain, the defending U.S. Open champion, Collin Morikawa, the winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship, and James Piot, the 2021 U.S. Amateur champion who played last week in the primary LIV Golf tournament.
The group moved briskly and civilly across the Country Club layout, exhibiting all the standard courtesies that golfers do — remaining quiet when an opponent is over the ball, staying out of sight when others are putting, moving a ball mark whether it is in someone’s line. It looked like every other threesome in every other first round of a serious championship.
It recalled the words of Justin Thomas, a pacesetter among the many young players who’ve pledged their support for the PGA Tour, who said earlier within the week about those that have chosen to affix the breakaway enterprise: “You’ll be able to disagree with the choice. You’ll be able to perhaps wish that they did something in another way. But for people at home to necessarily say that Dustin Johnson is now a foul person, that’s not fair. That’s just not right.”
Rahm on Tuesday said something similar. His countryman Sergio Garcia is now a LIV golfer. Asked about Garcia’s defection, Rahm replied: “Not my business.”