US Open takes Saudi money to golf’s toughest test

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BROOKLINE, Mass. – The US Open isn’t the only US major that has felt like an afterthought, lost amid chatter and innuendo about unrelated birdies and bogeys.

Golf wasn’t the main concern until the 1990 PGA Championship in Shoal Creek, Alabama. The club’s founder had said that Shoal Creek would not be forced to accept a black member. Corporate sponsors began pulling television advertising, protests were planned, and Shoal Creek extended membership to a black insurance executive a week before the PGA.

Until the first tee shot, most of the stories were about the controversy and its ripple effect in golf, not Nick Faldo’s chance of winning his third major of the year.

Battle lines were drawn at the 2003 Masters between activist Martha Burk and her demands for Augusta National to have a female member, and club president Hootie Johnson who stubbornly declared that day might come, but “not at the point of a bayonet”.

Tiger Woods was aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive Masters, and he received 10 questions from the media about social issues and chaos in Augusta. And then when Thursday came around, the rain washed away the first lap.

The difference is the The US Open has been eclipsed by a development that is not of its making.

Just his luck, a return to the Country Club for the 122nd Open and his centenary legacy came a week after the rebel Saudi-funded LIV Golf series debuted outside London.

Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, the two biggest defectors, are among the 14 players suspended by the PGA Tour for signing up and who are now playing at the US Open. Rumors have been swirling all week that more players could sign up for Saudi money next week.

Mickelson defended her decision. Rory McIlroy said players who signed up for 54-hole events without cut and guaranteed money are “taking the easy way out.”

“We’re praying for that to change tomorrow,” USGA chief Mike Whan said Wednesday. “Even I can say that you don’t have to ask what we think. Ask 156 players who are striving to get to tomorrow. They’re trying to focus on the same thing we’re trying to focus on.

“I think – hopefully – as soon as we start tomorrow we’ll have something else to discuss, at least for the next four days.”

It starts with local flavor. Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen, who grew up in the Boston area and won a US Junior Amateur, hits the No. 1’s first tee shot. Frank Quinnwho is 57 and lives about 40 minutes from Brookline, will start No. 10.

Mickelson only received cheers and support – not as loud as other years – on his practice rounds. He can expect a few renditions of “Happy Birthday” in his first round as he turns 52 on Thursday.

What they face is an old-school course, dense and rough around most of the tiny greens, with fescue framing fairways that aren’t the narrowest for a US Open and remain an important part of avoiding that the big numbers are on the map.

The par-3 11th hole is 131 yards per chart and will likely play less than 100 yards at some point. The fifth hole is short enough for players to drive the green.

The US Open is usually about precision rather than power, with patience the key for everyone. Recent history, however, leans towards the heavy hitters – Jon Rahm last year, Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot, Gary Woodland at Pebble Beach, Brooks Koepka back to back and Johnson at Oakmont.

“You should probably have an advantage if you’re a little longer,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA championships manager who runs the course. “How it’s going here, I don’t know. We will find out. We haven’t been here for 34 years.

It was 1988 when Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo in the playoffs. Both were known for their precision iron game and avoiding big mistakes.

“It’s going to be a good old-school US Open with some rough stuff, and we’ll see how they come out and what they use off the tee,” Bodehamer said. “I’m telling you, with these small greens and the firmness, they’re going to have to be in the fairway.”

When it comes to prize money, the US Open is in line with other major tournaments, if not a step up. The PGA Tour set the tone by raising the Players Championship purse to $20 million in hopes the majors could follow.

The Masters and PGA Championship bumped their purses to $15 million (both an increase of at least $3 million), while the US Open increased by $5 million to $17.5 million. dollars.

That doesn’t compare to the $25 million in prize money the LIV Golf Series is offering for its 54-hole events which last week featured only four of the top 50 players in the world.

It’s a story of history, a trophy that dates back to 1895, making it the second oldest championship in golf. That should be enough to grab anyone’s attention for four days.

“We’re here at the major championship, and we’re here to win the US Open, and we’re here to play and beat everyone in this area, in this big area,” said two-time major champion Collin Morikawa. “That’s what it’s about.”

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