Phil Mickelson may have lost his PGA Tour privileges, sponsorship, the respect of his peers and the support of the golf media… but he will always have a gallery.
Playing his first U.S. tournament since he made comments about the Saudi Arabian government sending him into golf exile, Mickelson enjoyed the Boston gallery cheers at The Country Club, giving thumbs up all week. On Thursday, his 52nd birthday, Mickelson stepped onto the first tee amid a roaring reception from a 10-line crowd.
With his new stubble and black gear that featured only his personal logo — a silhouette of his three-inch vertical when he won the Masters in 2004 — Mickelson hit his first tee right into the heart of the first fairway. It was one of the few highlights of the start of Mickelson’s round.
But the support of the fans means nothing to the scoreboard. Mickelson struggled through the opening holes, causing consternation in three of the first five. On par 3 on the 6th, he had just over 12 feet for a birdie…and ended up holing the hole twice.
He moved up to 6-overs before hitting a birdie at 11, receiving a short roar from the crowd, but that would be Mickelson’s only highlight. He doubled 12th, finished 8-of-78 and will make plenty of birdies on Friday to get through.
Mickelson’s love-hate relationship with the US Open is a complex and 30-year-long romance. It was the only thing he needed to complete his career Grand Slam, the only thing that tormented him more than anything else. Yet despite all the disappointments, all the runners-up (6), he could count on the galleries to cheer him on and sing “Happy Birthday” to him every year throughout the course.
NBC’s Nota Begay reported during the broadcast that the galleries around Mickelson were behaving with applause but without much shouting. Several fans asked Mickelson for betting advice, citing his admitted gambling problem. Mickelson was accompanied by three uniformed police officers, two more than Rory McIlroy had had that morning.
Over the course of his 30-year professional career, Mickelson won over fans with his bold, shooting approach to the game and public exposure. Fans can refer to him if not necessarily his bank account. He’s cultivated that image for decades, and losing all those US Opens only seems to have strengthened his relationship with the fans.
Since he is committed to the LIV Golf, Mickelson will not appear in the US again for the foreseeable future. But since Thursday it has become clear that he has not lost the support of at least some of his loyal fans.
Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.