DEREK LAWRENSON: Rory McIlroy is set to lift the black clouds hanging over the US Open with golf’s Saudi civil war dominating the build-up at Brookline as the Northern Irishman rides the momentum of his Canadian Open win
- The fallout of the LIV Golf Series has dominated the build-up to the US Open
- USGA CEO Mike Whan warned the rebels they may not play majors in the future
- Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman were called to be removed from Hall of Fame
- Rory McIlroy arrives at Brookline off the back of a win at the Canadian Open
- The top UK Nike players will play with bags referencing the American revolution
The skirmishes in golf’s civil war that have dominated the build-up to the US Open continued on Wednesday in the city that sparked the American revolutionary war.
Mike Whan, CEO of the United States Golf Association, warned the 15 Saudi-backed LIV rebels competing here that he could foresee a day — presumably through their inability to gain world ranking points — where it would be harder for them to qualify to play in this major.
‘We only decided a week ago that they could play in this one,’ he added.
Momentum is tool in Rory McIlroy’s armoury as he comes off the back of a win in Canada
Mike Whan, CEO of the United States Golf Association, warned the 15 Saudi-backed LIV rebels competing at the US Open that there may be a day when they can no longer play majors
Former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee, now an outspoken analyst for the Golf Channel, underlined the depth of acrimony when he called for Saudi stooges Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson to be removed from the sport’s Hall of Fame.
‘They’ve dishonoured the game and they threaten to destroy the game that they’ve benefited from so enormously,’ he opined.
Lost amid all this, of course, has been any sense of anticipation regarding the 122nd edition of America’s national championship, being staged at one of the country’s most historic courses. ‘We’re praying that will now change,’ said Whan.
Former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee slammed the LIV rebels for ‘dishonouring the game’
He called for Greg Norman (right) and Phil Mickelson (left) to be removed from the Hall of Fame
With positions so entrenched, a badly needed resolution is not happening any time soon, but let’s hope a temporary ceasefire now holds and that for 72 holes we can enjoy peace.
At Brookline, the original Country Club that would spawn so many more across America, it promises to be quite the occasion, displaying all the inestimable values of tradition and heritage.
If any of the players are looking for inspiration from echoes of the past, they can surely find it in the drive to the club. As you approach the entrance, the modest, recently restored home of Francis Ouimet emerges into view.
Francis Ouimet (centre) produced a victory over Ted Ray (right) and Harry Vardon (left) in 1913
He was the caddie who became Boston’s first sporting hero when he crossed the road to play in 1913 and sparked an American revolution of a different kind with a startling victory over Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, the dominant British professionals of the day.
In a rather clever marketing wheeze, the top UK players of this age under contract to Nike are playing with golf bags with the date April 18, 1775, stitched into the fabric, complete with two lanterns under it.
This is a nod to Paul Revere’s midnight ride from Boston to warn key patriots further down the line: ‘The British are coming! The British are coming!’ One lantern meant they were coming by land, two by sea.
The top Nike-sponsored UK players will play with April 18, 1775, stitched into the fabric at the top of their bags, complete with two lanterns under it
Now they have come by private jet, led by Rory McIlroy as he seeks to follow up his triumph over Americans Justin Thomas and Tony Finau in the Canadian Open on Sunday by winning his first major for eight years.
Momentum has always proven a powerful tool in McIlroy’s armoury and, in the major that once gave him fits, with three missed cuts in a row, he seems to have found something by following that sequence with three successive top 10s.
He also seems to have found some distance control with his wedges at last and is going to need all of that precision this week. Brookline does not look a course set up for the in-form flair players such as McIlroy, Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns.
Brookline is suited to grinders such as Webb Simpson and Matt Fitzpatrick (pictured)
It is positively mean in places, with the rough around the small putting surfaces brutal and, together with the tortuous slopes on many of the greens, it looks more suited to grinders such as Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer and Matt Fitzpatrick.
10 YEARS WITHOUT AN ENGLISH WIN
If an Englishman does not win here, it will be 10 years without an English winner at the US Open.
Justin Rose won in 2013, with Americans winning six of the eight editions since.
The last time a US Open was played in these parts was in 1988, when two of the best grinders of all time — Curtis Strange and Sir Nick Faldo — contested a play-off, won by the American.
Do not be surprised, therefore, if this turns into one of those old-style US Opens, with a winning score close to par and patience the most precious virtue.
It could also come complete with an old-style US Open controversy if the wind freshens as predicted and the USGA are not careful. On these greens and sloping fairways, it is going to be a fine line preparing a course that stays on the right side of being fair.
If the British are coming, then why not a return to the spotlight for Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Justin Rose? Over the years they have proved they can grind with the best of them.
Fleetwood has shown his liking for this kind of test in the past with two top-four finishes, while the biggest victory of Hatton’s career came at Bay Hill and a similarly difficult set-up. As for Rose, his 60 on Sunday was further confirmation that he is finding his way back to form.
Tommy Fleetwood has shown his liking for this kind of test with two top-four finishes
On Tuesday, Brooks Koepka described the LIV furore as a ‘black cloud hanging over the US Open’. On Thursday, it will hopefully finally lift to reveal a game in rude health if it would only stop tearing itself apart.
Who knows where we will be by the time the next US Open comes around? So much ugliness and disfigurement lies ahead in an increasingly alarming and uncertain future for the sport.
At a classic venue, we should savour these four days while we can.
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