Phil Mickelson braced for abuse during next week's US Open after taking part in LIV Series

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For 30 years he has been the darling of the US Open crowd. Now, in what might prove his final appearance, Phil Mickelson is bracing himself for a rather different reception this week before a Boston fan base with a merciless reputation for pouncing on any weakness.

The locals were drawing familiar criticism at the NBA finals last week as Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors took dead aim at the Boston Celtics crowd for dropping f-bombs in front of kids.

‘Buddy, that chant was probably started by a nine-year-old drinking Guinness and smoking a Marlboro,’ replied one Celtics fan. ‘Welcome to Boston.’

Phil Mickelson has been playing at the controversial LIV Invitational Series event in England

Phil Mickelson has been playing at the controversial LIV Invitational Series event in England

The response Mickelson is given at next week's US Open at Brookline will be fascinating

The response Mickelson is given at next week’s US Open at Brookline will be fascinating

What type of welcome Mickelson gets in his first tournament on American soil since January is going to be fascinating, following a week when he ended his four-month exile at the LIV shambles at St Albans and has been pilloried from coast to coast in his homeland for becoming a ‘Saudi Stooge’. 

A provocative back page in the New York Post summed up the coverage. It came with a massive photo of Mickelson in a green jacket overlaid with dollar signs, complete with the clever headline: ‘Greed Jacket’.

Any chance the US Open might draw a less vociferous crowd than the four major sports with franchise teams in Boston hardly tallies with what happened the last time the Brookline venue hosted a big occasion. 

That was the notorious 1999 Ryder Cup, where the audience was so hostile as the Americans came back to win it led writer and broadcaster Alistair Cooke to declare that he had witnessed ‘the arrival of the golf hooligan’.

Brookline (above), venue for the 1999 Ryder Cup, can be an unforgiving venue for the players

Brookline (above), venue for the 1999 Ryder Cup, can be an unforgiving venue for the players

Ironically, Mickelson was one of the prime beneficiaries on that occasion, as the crowd handed out some vicious treatment to his singles opponent Jarmo Sandelin and the lefty went on to win. This time, it might be Mickelson on the receiving end.

What a contrast to 12 months ago, when he was the pin-up boy for sport itself after becoming the oldest major winner in history at the US PGA Championship. Four weeks later, he moved on to a US Open that just happened to be taking place in his home town of San Diego.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given all the expectation, he was never a factor in the one major he is missing to complete the career Grand Slam. It’s not for the want of trying. He’s had no fewer than six runner-up finishes in all, with five of his near misses coming on America’s east coast, where each time the crowd was universally sympathetic.

This time, however, he returns in radically changed circumstances, with his legacy trashed and his status uncertain after he was banned by the PGA Tour from their events for siding with the Saudi rebels (the US Open is run by the US Golf Association, a separate organisation). Dropped like a stone by his sponsors, he took to the course at St Albans wearing a wind jacket with just the tiny Masters logo.

Six-time major winner Mickelson (pictured at the 2021 US Open) was once a crowd favourite

Six-time major winner Mickelson (pictured at the 2021 US Open) was once a crowd favourite

But his participation in the maligned LIV series could change his reputation among golf fans

But his participation in the maligned LIV series could change his reputation among golf fans

The last thing Mickelson needed as he prepares to enter the Boston bear pit was Tiger Woods announcing his withdrawal last week, meaning there’s no question as to the biggest story in town.

The crowd following his group for the first two days will dwarf that of any other and it’s surely unrealistic to expect a unanimous seal of approval. He’s certainly likely to need earplugs on the day; he’s part of the afternoon wave, when many in the crowd will be juiced up with a few beers.

Mickelson has had his run-ins with the USGA in the past. He should have been disqualified from the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2018 after playing his version of ice hockey on the 13th green, hitting the ball back and forth in protest at a flag location. Typical Mickelson — too clever by half.

There won’t be much sympathy in the locker room, either. Never one of the most popular players, his rating dropped like a stone when he gave his deeply damaging interview last February, accusing the PGA Tour of ‘obnoxious greed’.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, currently playing in the Canadian Open, led the calls from the loyalists expressing their agreement with the indefinite ban.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dropped a letter to members revealing that any defectors to the Saudi tour had had their PGA memberships suspended

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dropped a letter to members revealing that any defectors to the Saudi tour had had their PGA memberships suspended 

Mickelson responded by saying that he intends to play in all eight Saudi events and may find himself suspended from next year’s US Open as a result, depending on whether the USGA sides with the PGA Tour and alters its entry criteria.

For now, they have got enough on their plate when it comes to the 51-year-old. The USGA are tight-lipped when it comes to security matters. But there will surely be extra police in attendance walking the fairways and plainly visible when it comes to the six-time major winner, and indeed the other high-profile Saudi rebels who have turned their backs on the established game, such as Dustin Johnson.

Then there’s Sergio Garcia, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Brookline in 1999 and got up the noses of the Americans Now, alongside Mickelson, he faces the most hostile audience of all.

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