ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | The messaging of this 150th Open Championship – beyond the direct message R&A boss Martin Slumbers delivered to LIV Golf and its expatriates on Wednesday – is grand, but then so is the occasion.
“Everything Has Led To This” is splashed across grandstands, signage and pretty much any place else with room enough to bear the message.
On Thursday, “This” finally arrived.
If the Masters is a spring party, the PGA Championship a nod to the game’s abundant working class and the U.S. Open a root canal in soft spikes, this Open Championship feels like a global golf festival.
The closer it gets to Sunday afternoon and someone being presented the Claret Jug, the more the tightening pressure will be felt, conjuring up the ghosts and the grandeur that hang over the Old Course like the heavy sea air.
But on Thursday, with the wind more rumor than reality and tee times separated by as much as 9 hours and 41 minutes, the actual golf was only part of why the Open Championship glowed beneath a generally gray sky.
When a questioner persisted in asking about the perceived controversy, Phil Mickelson cut him off. “Let it go, dude. Let it go,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I couldn’t be happier.”
For anyone expecting a civil war of sorts to be fought between the LIVers and everyone else, it didn’t happen. It felt joyful.
Even Ian Poulter, who can be prickly at times, wouldn’t bite the hook tossed toward him about a reported smattering of boos when he was on the first tee, preparing to pull-hook his opening tee shot into Ian Baker-Finch territory.
“All I heard was clapping,” Poulter said after shooting a 3-under-par 69 on a course that fought back as best it could.
“Oh, my gosh. I have heard not one heckle. In three weeks, I’ve heard nothing. What have you heard?”
Phil Mickelson, after explaining the R&A suggested he take a pass on some pre-tournament activities, said his visit has been lovely.
“It’s been great,” said Mickelson, the 2013 Open champion.
When a questioner persisted in asking about the perceived controversy, Mickelson cut him off.
“Let it go, dude. Let it go,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I couldn’t be happier.”
Since we’re on the subject of LIV players, Bryson DeChambeau took the high road when asked about Bridgestone Golf’s decision to end their relationship.
“I love them,” DeChambeau said.
As for Tiger Woods’ criticisms earlier this week, the talking point remained consistent.
“I respect everybody’s opinion,” DeChambeau said.
This could be the last time all of the top players in the world play the same event, at least until the Masters next year and, depending on what the green jackets and other leaders of the game decide, it could be much longer than that.
The FedEx Cup playoffs will go on but without the growing legion of LIV Golf expatriates, and it will likely be the same for the DP World Tour’s schedule through the remainder of the year.
No DJ. No bad-ass Brooks. No Sergio or Bryson or PReed. No Talor Gooch to compare the BMW Championship to the Open Championship.
Some will say it’s no great loss, but it is, though in some individual cases it could be addition by subtraction.
That will be sorted out by backroom discussions, lawsuits and, if all sides are smart, some form of covert negotiation that will solve an ugly situation that, in its own disruptive way, has also led to this.
It is too easy to say that Opens at the Old Course have a special distinction, but it’s true. Rory McIlroy, who seemingly carries the wishes of the world on his shoulders, said winning here is the game’s “holy grail.”
Where else can a person walk down a narrow road – the appropriately named Links Road – and be approximately two club-lengths from the 18th fairway without needing a ticket? The official spectators are inside the wire fence while others are happy to be on the perimeter, feet from the various shop doors and apartment stoops that adjoin the Old Course.
It will be that way late Sunday afternoon when the engraver is waiting to scratch someone’s name into the Claret Jug, but there will be more heads to see over then.
By lunchtime on one of golf’s longest days, hundreds of fans gathered around picnic tables to watch the day unfolding on a big screen. They could get fish and chips for £12.50 or something from the carvery. The Open Arms café, as much a part of Open Championship as Claret Jug logos, kept the taps open to fill the pints of lager being bought.
Not far from the 15th green, the giant merchandise building – they call it The Shop – had a long queue that zigzagged back and forth five times. Nearby, there was another queue for shoppers to ship their purchases home.
For those who endured both, there was another queue nearby where whisky was being sold.
Behind the tee at the famous 17th – the Road Hole – fans gathered to watch players fire their tee shots over the adjacent hotel. DeChambeau took dead aim over a populated balcony then sent his tee ball screaming over their heads.
Not to be outdone, John Daly – looking like Santa Claus on spring break – sent his own screamer over the edge of the building and the people, getting the fans in the grandstand off their feet to cheer him.
On the back side of the entryways around the Old Course is another large message that reads, “Safe Journey Home.”
No one seemed in a hurry to leave.
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