BROOKLINE — The storm clouds hovered over Phil Mickelson as he tapped in a short putt on the par-4 9th hole at The Country Club on Friday afternoon, but it didn’t pack a punch.
And now we’re left to assume Mickelson will depart into the sunset just fine.
Mickelson entered the 2022 U.S. Open one week after leaving the PGA Tour and joining the controversial LIV Invitational Golf Series. It was fair to think the longtime fan favorite could face backlash at the historic country club in Brookline. After all, he had to defend himself for joining the Saudi Arabian-backed league to a 9/11 group during his Monday press conference. He didn’t get off to the best start.
Fortunately for Mickelson, those sentiments, much like the storm, didn’t stick around too long. Mickelson received a pleasant reception for much of his 36 holes.
Sure, there were a few times fans referenced Mickelson’s decision, like the “Keep going!” one fan shouted as he hit a putt long on the par-4 9th hole or the “It’s been nice knowing you!” another shouted as Mickelson sat in the back of a golf cart after he finished his tournament 11-over par 151. Mickelson will not play this weekend after missing the cut.
But for the most part it, fans were excited to see the 51-year-old lefty. So excited, in fact, it might have surprised others.
“It’s been a lot more positive than I anticipated,” Travis Clarke, 34, of Milton, told NESN.com while watching Mickelson’s second shot on the par-4 4th hole. “I thought he was going to get the A-Rod treatment: Boston sports fans ripping into him.”
Andy Maloney, 37, who flew in from Dublin, Ireland to follow his mate and Mickelson’s playing partner, Shane Lowry, admitted he was surprised by the “All-American boy.”
“We wouldn’t be too happy with Phil,” Maloney told NESN.com on the par-4 9th hole, referencing the feelings of his countrymen. “He wouldn’t be leaving with two legs if it was football.”
But there was Mickelson, flashing his trademark thumbs up time after time during his 36 holes. It was almost impressive how even as Mickelson ballooned to 12-over par after a bogie on the 4th hole, fans continued to follow. And many cheered. It was a respectable following, too, not one often associated with a score of 12-over through 31 holes.
“People have been pretty muted because he’s been playing so poorly,” Rowan McFeeley, 42, of Norwell, told NESN.com before Mickelson carded consecutive birdies on the par-4 5th and par-3 6th, both of which prompted rowdy cheers. “People are still trying to figure out if they like him or not.”
Certainly some are trying to figure out if Mickelson is still someone they want to see succeed. And it’s likely those feeling that way were left saying nothing, rather than taking part in cheers or jabs. But based on the amount of “We love you, Phil!” cries, it appeared many already made up their mind.
Others, though not so outspoken, seem to have made up their minds, too.
“I find myself as a staunch supporter and loyalist to the PGA Tour,” Clarke said. “I have drawn a line in protest, which is so stupid, but I refused to watch it (LIV’s opening event).”
Maloney added: “He’s made millions out of this tour. He’s set up his wife, family, kids, generations. And he can still make so much more on the seniors tour, what’s going to come. There’s still hundreds of millions for him to make. And his career, from the PGA Tour, I suppose was kind of finished. But there’s not a lot of people out here whose career is kind of finished and can still go on to make millions. Millions. Ryder Cup captaincy. I just don’t get the money aspect. I mean, how much money does one man need?”
Mickelson, though not playing well enough to earn a spot this weekend, already has his next trip to the Boston area scheduled. It was acknowledged as one fan shouted “Hey Phil, we’ll see you in a couple months!” with Mickelson on the back of the aforementioned golf cart. That elicited a thumbs up, too.
Mickelson’s new employer, LIV Golf, will stop at The Oaks Golf Course at The International in Bolton over Labor Day Weekend.
“I’d take the free ticket,” McFeely said when asked if he would be interested in attending a LIV event. “If you follow golf, it’s still cool to watch someone strike the ball better than you. But it’s still sad. Where does it all end?”
It seems that storm hasn’t touched the ground yet.