US Open starts at The Country Club in Brookline

By JIMMY GOLEN AP Sportswriter

BROOKLINE, Mass. – Every screamer from Yarmouth and Masshole from Athol has descended on The Country Club this week, when 14 golfers in the US Open field will meet the American public for the first time since they defected to an upstart Saudi-backed tour.

The injection of genuine international intrigue is expected to invigorate Boston’s legendary obnoxious sports fan and make the staid, secretive enclave more like a commercial casting of Sam Adams.

Boys named Sully and Fitz lined the fairways and greens of the 140-year-old club during practice rounds, ready to greet their least favorite golfers with the same welcome their ancestors gave the Redcoats in Lexington and Concord.

“It’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said defending US Open champion Jon Rahm, who sticks to the PGA Tour and shuns the bigger, guaranteed paydays offered by LIV Golf.

“There hasn’t been a US Open here in a long time, so they’re looking forward to it, and you can tell,” said Rahm. “It almost feels like what’s going on in the golf world almost makes them want to show their presence even more. I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

More hesitant was Phil Mickleson, a six-time major champion who is the biggest name among the LIV XIV. He said in February that the Saudi regime funding the new tour was “scary (expletive)” but still cost a reported $200 million to play on it.

One of the most popular players in the world, Mickelson said on Monday he wasn’t sure his supporters would let him down.
Just in case he buttered the locals like a Parker House sandwich.

“The crowds in Boston are some of the best in the sport,” Mickelson said during a 25-minute media session after arriving in this Boston suburb after last week’s LIV event outside London.

“I think their excitement and energy create such a great atmosphere,” he said. “So whether it’s positive or negative towards me, I think it will provide an incredible atmosphere to hold this championship.”

Golf is typically the most genteel sport, with its muffled whispers on the green and polite, muffled applause. It is rude to talk during a player’s swing; cheering a rival’s miss is just not done.

Quiet, there are exceptions.

The Phoenix Open is a beer-based revelry that wouldn’t look out of place in the Yankee Stadium stands. And here at The Country Club, the 1999 Ryder Cup erupted into a frenzy that lives on as ‘The Battle of Brookline’.

During the biennial competition between golfers from the United States and a team from Europe, doughy Scotsman Colin Montgomerie was relentlessly harassed for his resemblance to the Robin Williams-in-drag movie character Mrs. Doubtfire (as well as former New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells, nicknamed “Tuna”).

Some of the sport’s other niceties were also ignored, most notably the American celebration after Justin Leonard’s cup-clining birdie on the 17th green — before José María Olazábal had a chance to stake. The Europeans were furious.

But those antics were mild compared to what other visiting Boston athletes have experienced.

Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent has been given a new middle name — it rhymes with “Bucky” — for the crime of hitting a home run against the Red Sox. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving got a bottle of water thrown at him after a post-season game; he had the audacity to leave the Celtics after professing his love for the city.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was hidden from view at the New England Patriots Super Bowl banner-raising in 2017 or it would still anger fans over his decision to suspend quarterback Tom Brady for his role in the Deflategate cheating- saga.

And last week, Celtics fans greeted Golden State Warriors antagonist and NBA Finals opponent Draymond Green with a vulgar chant. (It also rhymed, somewhat unimaginatively, with “Bucky.”)

“Classy. Very classy,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was harassed by a Duck Boat driver – albeit jovial – as he walked through town.

“That’s just Boston that is Boston,” The Boston Globe explained Wednesday in a deep dive into the characteristic cold shoulder of the city’s sports fans. “Rude gestures are just how we say ‘hello’ here.”

The US Open crowd was busy but well behaved at the start of the week as golfers played their practice rounds. Two graying women discussed their online bridge games as they waited to cross the 18th fairway. Men wearing golf shirts from their home clubs were discussing business or their last round.

Mickelson had a handful of police officers with him on Tuesday — not unusual for one of the sport’s biggest names, even though they appeared to be more alert than usual. They heard only cheers as their guard made its way across the track.

“Good stuff, Phil!” cried Kameron Luthea, a man from Cumberland, Rhode Island, who saw Mickelson stall at number 6 on Tuesday. “Boston loves you, Phil!”

Luthea said he became a Mickelson fan because they are both left-handed. When asked if he was bothered by the connection to the repressive Saudi regime, Luthea cautiously said, “I support Phil and his golf game.”

“I like the way he plays,” Luthea said. “He is competing to win. He has no fear.’

In fact, Mickelson may have nothing to fear this week but the punishing Country Club layout. The 51-year-old San Diegan, who turns 52 on Thursday, has won every major tournament except the US Open, which considers itself “golf’s toughest test,” and finished second, a record six times.

“Don’t kill the Boston fans,” Larry Costello, a resident of the nearby West Roxbury neighborhood, told a reporter after Mickelson came to the gallery to greet an acquaintance. Fans took selfies and reached out with items for the golfer to sign before walking down the fairway to complete his round.

The gallery followed, but not before Luthea offered one last thought:

“Scare Kyrie,” he yelled at a reporter. “You can throw that in.”

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