Brooklyn, Mass. ( Associated Press) – Phil Mickelson made his way down the fairway first and almost clearly gave a thumbs-up, even though he wasn’t responding to any words of encouragement from the stands or behind the ropes.
In this sense, Tuesday was like the week in which the US Open would be played.
This is Mickelson’s 31st appearance. But it would be hard to find any sense of normalcy for him and many others in golf.
The LIV Golf League and the Saudi funds that support it will be given as much attention as growing weeds or firm greens. Greg Norman is mentioned as well as Francis Ouimet.
And Brooks Koepka is sick of hearing all this.
“Man, I try to focus on the US Open!” Koepka, the two-time champion of this tournament, claimed. “I legitimately don’t understand it. I’m tired of the conversation and all this. You guys are casting a dark cloud over this US Open, and I think it sucks.”
Michelson is at the center of the rival league that Norman operates. He arrived outside London last week to play LIV’s first tournament out of a month-long break with 13 other golfers who are now at The Country Club for the US Open.
On Tuesday, Mickelson played Spaniards Jon Rahm and Kevin Na. At the close of the first tee, he received applause, which was slightly less than in other years.
“It’s your year, Phil,” though someone yelled at him. “We love you, Phil,” said someone else.
A fan recognized Rahm and also gave words of encouragement. It was a nice gesture for the defending champion.
But Brookline bears little resemblance to Torrey Pines, where Rahm last year became the first player in US Open history to birdie the last two holes, winning by one stroke.
The setting is typical of New England, not coastal California. But the challenge seems familiar.
“It’s a US Open. You need everything,” Rahm said. “You need to drive well, hit your iron well, chip well and putt well. Be alert for four days. You can’t falter, period. You’ll have a lot of holes where things go wrong, but you just have to get over it and accept what can happen.”
“Obviously, like every US Open, it’s good to go.”
The Spaniard’s biggest concern was finding a place on a lush green practice packed with major champions, PGA Tour winners, amateurs and local players. It also specialized in the US Open.
However, noise from outside is difficult to pick out.
In February, when key players closed ranks around the PGA Tour, McIlroy said the Saudi project was “dead”.
He remembered that remark on Tuesday.
“I thought we were at the US Open,” he said simply.