Phil Mickelson (78) faces harsh reality after leaving the PGA Tour


PGA Championship 2022 Payout: What Justin Thomas and the Field Did in Southern Hills

BROOKLINE, Mass. – On this miserable day, crowd control was the least of Phil Mickelson’s concerns.

At his second tournament in four months at the challenging but eminently fair Brookline on his 52nd birthday, the result was predictable: Mickelson crashed in an opening round of 78 at this 122nd US Open. He trails 12 amateurs for 144th place, just five strokes behind last place.

“I really enjoyed the test,” Mickelson said in a brief interview at the players’ parking lot, but it was hard to believe him. He was last in the field within driving distance. He only hit eight greens. And he had a putter so cold he switched grips mid-round to little effect.

US Open full field results

Of course, that was no surprise. Any chance of Mickelson finally completing the career grand slam evaporated in 2019 when he was a non-factor at Pebble Beach, and now he must fight Father Time on open courses that are too punishable against fields that are too deep, are too strong. too good.

And so, no, Thursday’s drama at the country club wasn’t whether Mickelson would play his way into the early competition; it was about whether golf’s biggest disruptor would be heaped with insults and taunts from the notoriously rowdy Boston crowd.

Was Mickelson bracing for a potentially brutal day?

He made a face.

“No,” he said. “The people here have always been great.”

Earlier this week, Mickelson said he understood his career choices were polarizing, but he certainly made the calculus and assumed not much animus would be directed against him, not after building three decades of goodwill.

Mickelson struggles with putting on hole 6

First of all, sports fans are a forgiving bunch. Athletes have endured all sorts of sordid scandals and yet have been reintegrated into public life as loved as ever. Viewers pay for entertainment, preferably from people they know, and few in the game’s long history have been as popular as Mickelson.

Tournament golf also does not lend itself to open hostility. The country club isn’t a stadium or a court or a ballpark, the fans’ focus is on a field and limited attendance. A golf tournament spans a dozen acres, and no sane person would pay a few hundred dollars just to hate someone when there are 155 tastier options elsewhere.

And so they cheered on Thursday. Almost universal.

Mickelson received a hearty if not merry ovation when he was introduced and as he walked off the first tee he heard a series of congratulations, each responding with a thumb or a cap.

Let’s go Phil!


Get ’em Phil!

The few hoots landed with a thud. Someone yelled about blood money. Another mocked his dyed hair. Two guys chanted, “Khashoggi! Khashoggi!” A woman on the third hole shouted, “We’ve always loved you, Phil!” When playing partner Shane Lowry briefly left his yardie putt on 14, someone barked, “I blame Phil!” Then, “Serves you right that you go to the LIV!”

But for the most part, the three uniformed Brookline cops assigned to the group just stood around without enforcing etiquette and sucked in the bad golf.

On a mild, windy day, Mickelson’s miracle slam bid was doomed with a 4-putt from 10 feet on the sixth green, the slapstick scene eliciting mostly laughter from the crowd. He went out at 40, encountered a wild turkey while looking for his stray drive on the 12th hole, and generally looked like a 52-year-old in golf’s toughest test.

Despite this, Mickelson continued.

Even as the mistakes added up, he never strayed from his uncomfortably long pre-shot routine. He’s struggled with concentration for the past few years, so now he’s standing behind the ball for five, ten, 15 seconds, his left hand near his hip, trying to calm his racing mind, direct his focus and his visualize shot. It kind of worked at the 2021 PGA Championship, but that was an anomaly — he’s only had three top-10 finishes in his last 58 starts.

This overwhelming victory should have been celebrated as the dying breath of a proud champion. He’s been so good for so long, he should have been winning laps at Southern Hills last month and enjoying the admiration of an unlikely defending champion. Instead, he found himself in self-imposed exile following his inflammatory comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudis. That ended a few weeks ago when he announced his long-awaited move to LIV Golf (for a reported $200 million); After hitting his first tee in London, he was suspended indefinitely from the PGA Tour, his home for the past three decades.

This was Mickelson’s first US tournament since January and on Monday he received a barrage of pointed questions about his underlying motivations and tarnished image in the first interview slot. He was evasive and unhelpful for half an hour, and the irony escaped no one: Mickelson is the face of professional golf’s current unraveling, and yet in its competitive twilight he will not consider the divided future.

That dynamic creates the odd scene that unfolded at Brookline on Thursday: an inconsequential round of a former player who was besieged by the press and blown up by some of his peers, but remains dearly loved by his fans.

As the final groups drew to a close, Mickelson actually knocked to polite, sympathetic applause from the 18th hole grandstand, which was only a quarter full at 7:00 p.m. Behind the green, a woman in a Titleist cap and floral skirt yelled, “We love you, Phil!”


“Freedom of choice!”

And at the end of a gloomy day, Mickelson’s grin returned.

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