Brooklyn, Mass. – When Phil Mickelson spoke to the media at The Country Club, the site of this week’s US Open, he sounded like a man with a burden on his conscience. His face was grizzly, his words were calculated, and there were long pauses before he spoke. The six-time main winner looked down on a lot, a classic sign of someone feeling ashamed or guilty. He was trying to say the right things and answer tough questions, but his trademark spontaneity, sense of humor, and charm all disappeared.
Two hours later, Justin Thomas spoke like a man with a broken heart.
On Sunday, his friend, Rory McIlroy outperformed Thomas, and finished third in the RBC Canadian Open despite hitting a 63-64 over the weekend. But this performance didn’t put an angry look on Thomas’ face or give his voice a tinge of frustration.
“This is the US Open, and this is an incredible place, a place with so much history, incredible scope, so many storylines,” Thomas said. “And yet who – which It seems like all the questions revolve around him.”
who – whichIt is, of course, the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and several other golfers competed on the field this week in the first breakaway tour event last week outside London, and Bryson Dechambeau and Patrick Reed announced their joining the LIV Series in late June when the next event takes place at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon. This means that these players, the main champions and stars of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, will be suspended by the PGA Tour, like Mickelson and Johnson last week, and will not be eligible to compete in Tour events.
Breaking golf is not what Thomas wanted to discuss this week.
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“This is unfortunate. This is not true for the USGA. This is Not suitable for the US Open. This is not right for us players. But that, unfortunately, is where we are now,” he said.
Thomas, 29, along with McIlroy, became one of the faces of the PGA Tour. Thomas, the son of a PGA of America pro, seemed genuinely saddened by the players’ decision to join LIV Golf.
“I tossed and turned and lost a lot of sleep last week thinking about what could have happened,” he said. “I grew up all my life wanting to play the PGA Tour, wanting to break records, make history, play the Presidents Cups, play the Ryder Cups. The fact that things like that can get hurt because of some people leaving, and if more goes, that’s a thing. Sad. It’s really not another way of saying it.”
Thomas realizes that those ideas must now be fragmented. This week’s mission requires his full focus. The Country Club will be one of the toughest courses golfers will encounter all season, but Thomas’s game is steep. In 15 starts this season, he has nine in the top 10. He has the ability to dodge, is a striker with his irons, a magician with wedges and a hard bat too. He’s brave, too, as evidenced by his performance on Sunday at the Southern Hills, where he came back from seven shots to force a playoff with Will Zalatoris, which he won to take home his second Wannamaker Cup.
Amanda Balloice Rainer McIlroy congratulated McIlroy on his victory in the 21st PGA Tour event Sunday night. McIlroy quickly indicated that he now has one more PGA Tour win than Greg Norman, commissioner of LIV Golf. With his win at Southern Hills last month, Thomas holds two career majors, which ties him to Norman, who has twice won two British Opens.
On Sunday evening, Father’s Day, no one will be surprised if Thomas holds the US Open as sports fans cheer in Boston. He’s a Red Sox fan, so he’s going to love it here. He may not cast a shadow over Norman as McIlroy, after every PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf the Yankees aren’t against the Red Sox yet.
Then again, the world of golf changed a lot last week, and Thomas wasn’t crazy about it that much, so time will tell.