So … it’s back to regular programming in the world of golf.
If only for one week.
There’s going to be a major championship played this coming week, with the US Open beginning Thursday at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Surely, there will still be residual chatter regarding the controversial, hot-button LIV Golf Invitational Series venture, fronted by polarizing CEO Greg Norman and backed by an endless supply of soiled Saudi Arabian money.
But the focus of the golf world — which has been fun to th inaugural LIV Golf event this week outside of London (where Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were the headline acts) — will return to the so-called mainstream major championship golf as we’ve known it, with the US Open in play.
Though PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced Thursday the suspension of the 17 players competing in the LIV event in London and any of those players who follow, no one is banned from playing this week at Brookline.
The USGA, which perhaps may later follow suit with the PGA Tour and align with Monahan in the future, announced last week that its Open championship will remain open to those who have qualified.
That includes the 51-year Mickelson, whose US Open heartbreak (six times a runner-up) is one of the enduring storylines in this championship, the only major trophy he’s missing in his dogged pursuit of completing a career Grand Slam.
It, too, includes Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer — all former US Open winners who are firmly entrenched in Norman’s LIV Golf series — having gone as far as to resign from their PGA Tour membership. And Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion, who on Friday announced he has signed on with LIV.
These are fast-moving, polarizing and complicated times in golf.
There is, however, not much complicated about the task that lies ahead at The Country Club.
Survival is the name of the week — as it always is at the US Open. The legendary course, which oozes history, will be set up with the usual USGA brute force, which means the rough will be strangling and the small greens will rock hard.
There will be plenty for the players to deal with while navigating their way through holes 1-18 at The Country Club than their thoughts on LIV Golf, Saudi money, allegiances to the PGA Tour and the star-power division that’s taking place in the game will be pushed to the back of minds.
Among the history that has taken this week include the history that has taken venerable course, which course designer Gil on the great storylines restoration by renownedse.
The last time the US Open was played at The Country Club in 1988, when Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff to win his first of consecutive US Open titles.
The Country Club also famously hosted the 1999 Ryder Cup, when the United States made its historic comeback from a 10-6 deficit entering Sunday singles to defeat Europe, 14 ½-13 ½ — highlighted by that miraculous birdie bomb Justin Leonard drained on the 17th hole against Jose Maria Olazabal to clinch the chalice and ignite that wild American celebration on the green that still has the Europeans chafed.
More recently, the club hosted the 2013 US Amateur, which was won by Matt Fitzpatrick, now one of the top players in the world. That US Amateur field was littered with players who are now prominent on the PGA Tour such as current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, reigning PGA champion Justin Thomas, Canadian Corey Conners, DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Talor Gooch and Cameron Young.
The most storied piece of history involving the club was the 1913 US Open that was won by 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet, who defeated Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff. In 1963, Julius Boros beat Arnold Palmer and Jacky Cupit in the US Open playoff.
The defending champion is Jon Rahm, who prevailed at Torrey Pines a year ago to win his first career major and has been relatively quiet since.
Mickelson will be perhaps the most fascinating player. Both how he’ll play and how he’ll be received by the spectators as he emerges from his four-month self-exile after explosive comments he made about the Saudis and the PGA Tour (in what he said was a private conversation published by the reporter) will be scrutinized.
The US Open will be the first major championship Mickelson has played this year after he skipped the Masters (his favorite tournament which he’s won three times) and the PGA Championship (which he would have defended in May).
“Hey, that’s why we watch,” said Paul Azinger, a former player and a current NBC analyst who’ll be broadcasting this week.
Former player and current NBC analyst Notah Begay III echoed Azinger: “That is why we watch. We want to see what’s going to be the response. This [LIV Golf] is the major thing that’s going on. It’s a major disruption to the sport. I don’t know how the American golf fan … there’s no telling how that reaction’s going to be. I think it’s going to be much anticipated.”
Leonard, also a part of the NBA broadcast team this week, said he believes the public will continue to embrace Mickelson despite the fact that his decision to take the Saudi money has turned a lot of fans off.
Booing and outward negative reaction isn’t really a part of the culture of golf spectators, barring the occasional fans who’ve been overserved at the various watering holes around the courses.
“I think the response [to Mickelson] will be mostly positive because he has been a fan favorite for so many years,” Leonard said. “I’m really more curious where his game is, just because he hasn’t played competitively in so long. I think we’re all curious to see both how he plays and how he’s received.”