An unintentionally comedic moment was delivered when Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen and Shane Lowry wandered towards their second shots at the Country Club’s opening hole on Friday.
“Hey Louis,” bellowed a Bostonian. “Great job on the win last week.”
It was Charl Schwartzel who prevailed in the opening LIV Golf event at the Centurion Club. Easy though it may be to mix up South African golfers – neither Schwartzel nor Oosthuizen has much by way of profile – this proved a subtle nod towards general or wilful ignorance of the LIV scene. It is taking place somewhere in the ether but the paying public are not engaged with further detail. Unless, of course, the punter was remarkably referencing LIV’s team event, which is even further down the public consciousness.
At the time of the errant gallery cry – this group played the back nine first – Mickelson was 11 over par for the 122nd US Open. A mere 13 months on from capturing hearts and minds with a glorious US PGA Championship triumph Mickelson has become a competitive irrelevance. He is destined never to win his national Open, a notable gap in an otherwise iconic career. It is also now a tarnished one.
Mickelson’s situation is about far more than what sits in his trophy cabinet. He has embarked on such an incredible act of self-sabotage that he was almost pitied as he limped towards the second-round finish line. He reached that point after shooting an error-strewn 73 for an 11-over-par total. This 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 at the 3rd, which rather summed up his wayward play.
Any sense that Mickelson, the poster boy for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing golf disruption model, would be heckled at Brookline proved unfounded. “Go get em, Phil” and “You’re the man, Phil” were the regular cries. Yet it was all rather subdued, as if those behind the ropes did not exactly know how to frame their attitudes towards the 52-year-old.
It may be that a large section of this crowd think Mickelson has suffered enough, after successive weeks in which he has been probed about his thoughts on Saudi human rights abuses and 9/11. Perhaps a chunk of the US Open audience – men of a certain age – have encountered problems with gambling and sympathise with Mickelson’s admission of the same. There is, though, a marked difference between the reception afforded to Mickelson at Brookline and the fawning praise he once encountered with every step. Things will never be the same again for the six-times major winner, once such a great manipulator of public sentiment. His looked an utterly joyless 36 holes.
Mickelson, who is banned from the PGA Tour, looks a diminished character. Behind the sunglasses there is sadness. He has not covered himself in glory in front of the media but the $200m question is whether Mickelson regrets entering negotiations with the Saudis, which by his own admission was a “leverage” ploy, before reaching the point where he had ostracised himself from the PGA Tour. Maybe he does not care; demeanour and loss of sponsors suggest otherwise.
As Mickelson toiled, the world No 1, Scottie Scheffler, came marauding through the field courtesy of a 67. It is Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and others who sit firmly in the PGA Tour’s camp against the LIV threat. For as long as that remains the case, LIV will linger in the background rather than take on pre-eminent status in the sport.
LIV, fronted by Greg Norman, is expected to announce the commitment of more players on Monday. Next week will also see the DP World Tour confirm its position towards the existential threat. The smart money there would be an increased alliance between those at Wentworth and the PGA Tour.
Mickelson will next appear when the LIV circus – 54 holes, no cut, guaranteed dollars – rumbles into Oregon at the end of the month. By then he will hope to have resolved glaring putting woes. Beyond that he has somehow to make peace with himself. On all available evidence at Brookline he is a long way from reaching that position.