BROOKLINE, Mass. — LIV Golf is one tournament old.
The U.S. Open will be played this week for the 122nd time in its storied history.
And Thursday’s opening round at The Country Club cannot come quickly enough for those tired of talking about the Greg Norman-led Saudi golf tour and desperate to focus on the year’s third major championship.
As for Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, he’s already had a hell of a week, and his tour isn’t even playing.
As the conversations among players and media have continued to be dominated by LIV Golf, I’ve had this visual of Norman as the “Austin Powers’’ movie character “Dr. Evil,’’ sitting back at home, spinning around in a swivel chair and delighting in all the attention.
“It’s a sh–ty situation,’’ two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said during a mildly contentious meeting Tuesday with reporters, whom he blamed for creating all the LIV talk. “I think it kind of sucks. … You [reporters] are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. The more legs you give it, the more you keep talking about it.’’
Lines have been drawn in the sand traps, fairways and putting greens among the players. You’re either with the PGA Tour or you’re with LIV. There’s no in-between.
Rory McIlroy, who won the Canadian Open on Sunday, has been a flag bearer for the PGA Tour since the Norman-led tour began to gain attention.
“Putting your name on trophies that have legends on them … that’s something money can’t buy,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday. “Last week in Canada … LIV will never have that. Last week meant something. What they were doing over there [in London] meant nothing.’’
McIlroy was particularly fired up about his win in Canada because it was the 21st of his career, which gives him one more than Norman — a fact that he made abundantly clear in his post-round interviews.
“A little bit petty, I guess, in a way, but yeah,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday. “Did [knowing he could overtake Norman] help me win or help me keep a level of intensity up? Probably.’’
Honesty might be McIlroy’s best virtue outside of his otherworldly ability to drive a golf ball.
McIlroy said he understands why many of the players have fled to play in the LIV events.
“Because a lot of these guys are in their late 40s, in Phil’s [Mickelson] case, early 50s,’’ McIlroy said. “I think [if you asked] everyone in this room … they would say to you themselves that their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand for the guys that are a similar age to me going, because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are, too. So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out [for the guaranteed millions].’’
Jon Rahm, the defending U.S. Open champion, is of similar mind to McIlroy.
“Yeah, money is great, but when Kelley [his wife] and I started talking about it, we’re like, ‘Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million?’ ’’ Rahm said. “No, it will not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again.
“I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that. There’s meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There’s meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win L.A., Torrey, some of the historic venues. That to me matters a lot. My heart is with the PGA Tour.’’
Rahm, who’s friends with a number of the players who’ve defected, said it’s “not my business or my character to judge anybody’’ who made the jump.
“For a lot of people … those next three, four years are worth basically their retirement plan [with what LIV is] giving them,’’ Rahm said. “It’s a very nice compensation to then retire and sail off into the sunset. If that’s what you want, that’s fine.’’
For now, though, what players like Rahm, McIlroy and Koepka want is for the focus to be on the U.S. Open and not LIV Golf.
“I’m trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man,’’ said Koepka, whose brother Chase, a fringe PGA Tour player, joined LIV. “I’m tired of the conversations. I’m tired of all this stuff. We’re here to play, and you are talking about an event that happened last week. You can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror, can you?’’
No, but it doesn’t appear LIV Golf, with its bottomless pit of hundreds of millions, is going away anytime soon, so get used to the topic. Rahm is already bracing himself.
“I think the [LIV] events are spaced out just enough to where when the next one comes, we’re going on have the same talk all over again, right?’’ Rahm asked.