An unintentionally comedic moment was delivered when Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen and Shane Lowry headed for their second shots at the Country Club’s first hole on Friday.
“Hey Louis,” bellowed a Bostonian. “Great job on last week’s win.”
It was Charl Schwartzel who won the LIV Golf opening event at the Centurion Club. While it’s easy to confuse South African golfers – neither Schwartzel nor Oosthuizen have much profile – it proved a subtle nod to the general or willful ignorance of the LIV scene. It’s set somewhere in the ether, but paying audiences aren’t engaged with more details. Unless, of course, the punter is remarkably referencing LIV’s tag team event, which is even further out in the public consciousness.
At the time of the wandering gallery cry – this group played the front nine back – Mickelson was 11 over par for the 122nd US Open. Just 13 months after winning hearts and minds with a glorious U.S. PGA Championship triumph, Mickelson has become a competitive irrelevance. He is destined never to win his National Open, a notable lapse in an otherwise iconic career. It is also now a tarnish.
Mickelson’s situation goes far beyond what’s in his trophy cabinet. He embarked on such an incredible act of self-sabotage that he was almost pitied as he limped towards the finish line on lap two. He reached that point after shooting an error-ridden 73 for a total of 11 over par. It marked a third missed cut in Mickelson’s last six US Open appearances. He also cracked a spectator on the head with his tee shot in the 3rd, which pretty much summed up his temperamental play.
Any feelings that Mickelson, the poster boy for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing pattern of golf disruption, would be heckled at Brookline proved unfounded. “Go get ’em, Phil” and “You’re the man, Phil” were the regular shouts. Still, it was all rather subdued, as if those behind the ropes weren’t quite sure how to frame their attitude towards the 52-year-old.
Much of that crowd may think Mickelson has suffered enough, after successive weeks of being questioned about his thoughts on Saudi human rights abuses and 9/11. Perhaps some of the US Open audience – older men – had gambling problems and sympathized with Mickelson’s admission. There is, however, a stark difference between the reception Mickelson received at Brookline and the flattering praise he once met with at every step. Things will never be the same for the six-time winner, once such a great manipulator of public opinion. It looked like a completely joyless 36 hole course.
Mickelson, who is banned from the PGA Tour, looks like a diminished character. Behind the sunglasses, there is sadness. He didn’t cover himself in media glory, but the $200 million question is whether Mickelson regrets entering into negotiations with the Saudis, which by his own admission was a ploy leverage,” before getting to the point where he had ostracized himself from the Saudis. PGA Tour. Maybe he doesn’t care; the behavior and loss of sponsors suggest otherwise.
As Mickelson struggled, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler came marauding onto the court with a 67. It’s Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and others who are firmly seated in the PGA camp. Tower against the LIV threat. As long as that remains the case, LIV will stay in the background rather than take preeminent status in the sport.
LIV, led by Greg Norman, is expected to announce the signing of more players on Monday. Next week will also see the DP World Tour confirm its stance on the existential threat. The smart money there would be an increased alliance between those at Wentworth and the PGA Tour.
Mickelson will appear next when the LIV circus — 54 holes, no cuts, dollars guaranteed — rumbles through Oregon at the end of the month. By then, he hopes to have solved some glaring problems. Beyond that, he has to somehow make peace with himself. From all the evidence available to Brookline, he is nowhere near that position.