At the US Open, Betrayal, Grid, Star Golf Leaf, and above all, Zeena

Brooklyn, Massachusetts. – Historic moments are common in the US Open, which is expected to take place for the first time in 1895. But on Thursday, in the opening round of the 122nd round playing from that event, a notable event that could have happened was even unimaginable A month ago.

Fifteen golfers who recently turned down a PGA Tour set up to go along with an upstart Saudi-backed circuit that has recruited new members with hundreds of millions of dollars in temptations, will compete alongside players who have just left.

Oh, yeah, and the National Golf Championship was on the line.

The setting had all the elements of a thrilling emotional clash: a sense of betrayal, accusations of soulless greed, the potential for transformative change and a lovable, lovable character in the mockery of a fiery storm.

But it turns out that elite golf has quite a bit of fitness for it all.

Consider the scene where Phil Mickelson, the six-time lead champ and the most famous defector of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, was ready to start his tour. Last weekend, it was reported that Mickelson, who turned 52 on Thursday, received $200 million to be the main attraction of the rebellious Leaf Golf tour, of which Private Equity, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is the largest shareholder.

As Mickelson walked through a corridor of fans toward the stadium, applause enveloped him. The reception isn’t as enthusiastic as it was a year ago, when he won the PGA Championship to become the biggest ever major champion, but it was passionate and energetic.

By the time Mickelson got on the first tee, there were shouts and whistles that made Mickelson flip his hat. As the applause waned a bit, Mickelson turned to his trademark gesture — a smile and a hearty thumbs up — that would renew the standing ovation.

Dozens of fans shouted out:

“Go Phil!”

“Let’s go, Lefty.”

“We love you, Phil!”

The vast majority of players who have remained loyal to the PGA Tour particularly in recent days have wondered if players who now work at LIV Golf might hear the boos at the Country Club. This did not happen. Not when Dustin Johnson, the highest-rated player who joined the new league last week, got into the group ahead of Mickelson. Johnson’s greeting was silent but still affectionate.

As for Mickelson in the opening match, he didn’t hear anything close to sarcasm. However, at least one fan was comically teasing him. Mickelson was known for his gambling habits, something Mickelson described as “reckless and embarrassing” in an interview with Sports Illustrated last week.

Before Mickelson took his first shot on Thursday, a fan shouted on the slope of the hill behind him: “Phil, Celtics three and a half nights, who do you love?”

Boston is ranked as the favorite with 3.5 points against Golden State in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at TD Garden a few miles away.

As a roar of laughter erupted from the crowd, Mickelson kept his back round. Then he smashed a car into the driveway and walked toward the pit and the fans cheered and called out his name.

More likes. More cheers.

Earlier, in the practice range, any sense of a sharp split between golf-compatible LIV players and those still dedicated to the PGA Tour also evaporated.

Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion and PGA champion, approached Mickelson with a wide grin and rammed his fist. They spoke easily for a few seconds. Hitting the balls to the left of Mickelson was Shane Lowry, who was to play in the same group on Thursday. Lowry was certain – and really adamant – that he wouldn’t join the Contenders Tour. But on Thursday he was also happily chatting with Mickelson and the third member of their group, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who also joined the LIV Golf series. If the foundations of professional golf were indeed on the verge of collapse, as some have feared in recent days, that was not evident by the easy banter of this group, who each won at least one major championship.

As Mickelson’s tour unfolded, it was clear that his game, which had been unstable for several months, had not improved. He missed the first and third holes and barely recovered, firing eight over 78, leaving him 12 strokes behind the first-round leader, Adam Hadwin of Canada. Mickelson’s fans complained after his mistakes, clapped as he left the green and called out his name. William Sullivan of Woburn, Massachusetts was one of those fans who cheered Mickelson loudly.

Asked if he was surprised or disappointed when Mickelson chose to play last week at the inaugural LIV Golf event near London, Sullivan shook his head and said: “Not really.”

Sullivan stated that the PGA Tour, the circuit in which Mickelson has earned more than $94 million, has warned that any player who joins LIV Golf will be suspended and possibly permanently banned.

“Yes, but what did they give Phil – $200 million, right?” Sullivan asked. “Who wouldn’t take $200 million? I mean, play golf?”

As Mickelson turned toward the fourth hole, one voice shouted in his direction, “Sell!”

Mickelson did not react.

Around the golf course on Thursday, 12 groups were a mix of LIV Golf and PGA Tour players. One of them consisted of John Ram of Spain, the reigning US Open champion, Colin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Championship winner, and James Peut, the 2021 US Amateur Champion who played last week in his first Leaf golf tournament.

Moving lightly and civilly around the Country Club design, the group showed all the usual courtesies of golfers – staying calm when the opponent is over the ball, staying out of sight when others are laying down, and moving the ball marker if it’s in someone’s line. It looked like any other three-way set in any other first round of a major tournament.

I remembered the words of Justin Thomas, the leader among the young players who have pledged their support for the PGA Tour, who said earlier in the week of those who chose to join the breakaway project: “You can disagree with the decision. You can probably wish they had done something different. But for the For people at home to necessarily say Dustin Johnson is now a bad guy, it’s not fair. It’s not true.”

On Tuesday, Ram said something similar. His compatriot Sergio Garcia is now a Leaf golfer. When asked about Garcia’s defection, Ram replied: “It’s none of my business.”

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