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    LIV Golfers, Paid Upfront, Giggle Their Way Around Trump Bedminster

    Henrik Stenson won the third event on the LIV Golf tour, where nine-figure signing bonuses for top players guaranteed a carefree vibe.BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Brooks Koepka, the four-time major golf champion, was riding in a golf cart Saturday with his wife, Jena Sims, sitting on his lap, both laughing as the cart headed for the golf course.It was a nice snapshot of summer in New Jersey.But what set this scene apart was the fact that Koepka was roughly two minutes away from teeing off in the second round of the LIV Golf event at Trump Bedminster Golf Club. Typically, the buildup to the first shot at a professional golf tournament is tense, anxious and pressure-filled. After all, a seven-figure payday is on the line.The lighthearted Koepka-Sims cart ride, while harmless fun, underscored the impact of guaranteed nine-figure contracts earned by top players on the upstart, Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour. Koepka reportedly received more than $100 million to join the breakaway circuit.No wonder he and his wife were giggling.Patrick Reed teed off on the first hole on Saturday.As LIV Golf completed its third event this year on Sunday, there was an unmistakable carefree air to the undertaking, a sense that everybody had already gotten their money. That’s because dozens had, and even the player who finished last was assured a $120,000 payout (with the travel and lodging expenses for top players reimbursed).Henrik Stenson won the tournament and earned $4 million.Still, for all the focus on the sumptuous prize money, the LIV Golf experience has been illuminating and edifying for professional golf in other less avaricious ways. The vibe from Friday to Sunday in northwestern New Jersey was decidedly younger, less stuffy and clearly more open to experimentation than on the established PGA Tour. That meant blaring high-energy music even as golfers tried to execute devilish putts or challenging chips. The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” serenaded Dustin Johnson ($125 million upfront payment) at a high volume as he teed off on the first tee Sunday.His shot landed in a bunker.But many fans felt energized in the environment.“You go to a traditional golf tournament and they’re constantly telling you to shut up,” Patrick Shields, who lives in Hackensack, N.J., said next to the 16th tee. “It is a sporting event, right?”Golf carts filled with players, caddies and family members headed to each of the 18 tees for a shotgun start on Saturday.LIV Golf on-course volunteers, however, did carry crowd control placards meant to quiet fans, as is customary on the PGA Tour, too. The placards, held overhead, read, “Zip it,” or “Shhhh.”Although, just as relevant, the volunteers never had to deal with sizable crowds. The attendance for Sunday’s final round was substantially improved from the meager gatherings that turned out for the first two rounds — often there had been only about 30 people surrounding a green — but the total number of fans on the grounds Sunday was no more than several thousand.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    At a LIV Golf Event, Thin Crowds and a Tense Start

    BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Standing over his ball on Friday, Phil Mickelson, the prized acquisition of the new, Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, lined up his opening tee shot in the breakaway circuit’s event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.Just as Mickelson, who reportedly received an upfront $200 million signing bonus to join the insurgent tour, was set to begin his swing, a fan 15 yards to his right yelled: “Do it for the Saudi royal family!”Mickelson backed away from the shot as a security official approached the fan and told him he would be removed from the grounds if there was another outburst.Appearing unnerved, Mickelson returned to his stance and finally struck the ball, which sailed 60 feet off-line and landed in a cavernous bunker. Stomping off the tee and muttering to his caddie, Mickelson would begin his day with a bogey.The dominant LIV Golf slogan, barked in radio advertisements and posted on mammoth billboards in neon letters around the Trump course is “Golf, but louder.”Pat Perez, in black shirt, talked with Patrick Reed before the players teed off at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.It’s not likely that the Mickelson episode, which occurred seconds into the first LIV Golf event held in the Northeast, is what the organizers had in mind.For most of Friday’s first round it was anything but loud. Yes, there was plenty of music played around the grounds, from powerful speakers near greens and tee boxes. But thunderous cheering, the typical soundtrack of most professional golf tournaments, was nonexistent.The crowds at the event, LIV Golf’s third tournament, were too sparse to hear any ovations wafting around the course. That may have been because it was a Friday rather than a weekend, but as an example, the largest first-tee crowd of the day was unquestionably for Mickelson, and it was about 350 people.And Mickelson was hitting next to a large clubhouse balcony and patio. When he reached his first green, there were exactly 43 people waiting for him. While he played the 18th hole, a large luxury box overlooking the green was empty. Several thousand spectators were spaced around the course, but nowhere near the roughly 20,000 that might attend an average PGA Tour event. LIV Golf officials did not announce an attendance figure.As the day wore on, certain greens were partially enveloped by fans standing two deep, but that was a rarity. For many attendees, however, this was not necessarily a bad thing.Paul Casey on the 10th tee. Smaller crowds meant fans could easily get close to the players.Denny McCarthy, 29, of Kearny, N.J., was delighted with his unobstructed view of the 18th green. He planned to stay in the same spot for most of the day and watch each of the 18 groups of three players as they played the hole.“There’s a beer stand behind me and the line’s not long either,” McCarthy said.There were other noticeable ways in which the atmosphere was different than one at a PGA Tour event. For one, the players appeared much more relaxed. In interviews, LIV Golf players have talked about how the new circuit has worked to foster a collective spirit with extravagant pretournament parties at nightclubs and abundant reimbursement of travel expenses for players’ families and caddies.Moreover, because of the controversies swirling around the circuit — including its financing by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and the disquiet that it will forever splinter a revered golf ecosystem — the LIV golfers have felt ostracized. That has bred an us-against-them mentality that was evident on Friday. As the players walked the fairways, there was much more casual conversation among their groups than is customary at a PGA Tour event.Former President Donald J. Trump, whose club hosted the event, waved to supporters.The team competition element may be a factor. At each LIV event, 12 four-man teams play for a prize of $3 million that the winner splits evenly, supplementing the golfers’ individual earnings.“It feels very similar to playing college golf,” said Sam Horsfield, who, at 25, is one of the youngest players in the field. “You’re out there grinding on every shot to try and do well for the boys.”But in the end, there is an overriding reason that the LIV golfers may feel more at ease, and more collaborative: Each player, in a sense, is guaranteed to be a winner. Unlike PGA Tour events, which send half the field home without a dollar, LIV Golf events have guaranteed payments. Even the last-place finisher will receive $120,000 for his three days of competition.Those payouts have been made possible by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which has led critics to accuse the players of selling out to a country that is trying to paper over its poor human rights record. On Friday, a group of family members of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks protested near the course, asserting that Saudi officials had supported the terrorists.But on the course, some fans, especially younger ones, fed off the camaraderie that they observed among the players.“I like what they’re doing on social media, even seeing them enjoy the social events leading up to events,” said Jon Monteiro, 30, who traveled from his home in Reading, Pa., to the tournament on Friday. “The players are having more fun, and if they’re having fun I want to go and share in that atmosphere.”The LIV Golf series has added elements not usually seen on the PGA Tour. Among them: these sky divers.Standing next to Monteiro was his friend Alex Kelln, 30, who lives in Rumson, N.J. Speaking of past PGA Tour events he had attended, Kelln said the tour had a somewhat unwelcoming stigma, which he described as, “You stand there and there are quiet signs.”Monteiro interjected: “When we play golf there’s a speaker with music playing, and I feel like that’s how we’ve grown up playing golf.”Neither Monteiro nor Kelln worry about men’s professional golf being fractured by the showdown between the tours.“It’s healthy competition that ultimately will make them both better,” Kelln said.As Monteiro and Kelln spoke, it was 90 minutes before the first shots of the day, before Mickelson’s encounter with a heckler. Before the crowds were thin and scant at many holes.Monteiro conceded it was early in the LIV Golf experiment. He smiled and said, “We’ll see.”Attendees at the “fan village,” where the music was louder than you’d expect at a golf tournament. More

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    Henrik Stenson Stripped of Ryder Cup Captaincy as LIV Golf Rift Widens

    Stenson was removed as he appeared set to join the Saudi-financed series. Former President Trump, whose course will host the next LIV series event, urged players to “take the money.”Saudi Arabia’s contentious effort to buy its way into professional golf created a new flash point in the sport on Wednesday with the announcement that Europe’s team for next year’s Ryder Cup was dropping its captain, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, just ahead of his expected move to the new Saudi-financed LIV Golf series.Stenson, who won his only major championship at the 2016 British Open, is set to become the latest player lured by the riches being offered by the LIV Golf series, which has upended the once polite world of professional golf since hosting its first event earlier this summer.By guaranteeing players more money than they could earn in the biggest tours and tournaments that make up the traditional golf calendar, the LIV series has created an ugly fissure in the golf world. The fight has split golf into two camps: a group of traditionalists that includes some of the sport’s titans, including champions like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, and a growing band of rebels, a group that includes Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and, soon, Stenson.“In light of decisions made by Henrik in relation to his personal circumstances, it has become clear that he will not be able to fulfill certain contractual obligations to Ryder Cup Europe that he had committed to prior to his announcement as Captain on Tuesday March 15, 2022, and it is therefore not possible for him to continue in the role of Captain,” Europe’s Ryder Cup team said in a statement. The announcement did not specifically reference Stenson’s expected defection to LIV.The Ryder Cup, a wildly popular event that pits a team of United States players against a European squad, is set to be played at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome next September. European officials said Stenson’s ouster would take place “with immediate effect,” and that they would name a new captain soon.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    Mickelson and LIV Golf Attract Fans and Anger to Oregon

    Participants in the Saudi-backed event “have turned their backs on the crime of murder,” one critic said. But spectators just wanted to see their favorite players.NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Even as Phil Mickelson and other marquee players teed off to applause on Thursday in a Saudi government-backed tournament outside Portland, the golfers were excoriated in a protest and an affiliated television ad by family members and survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.It was a sign of the divisive nature of the start-up LIV Golf series, and a jarring contrast to the enthusiasm of the gallery that followed Mickelson around the course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, chanting such encouragement as “Man of the people, Phil, man of the people.”The Sept. 11 family members held a news conference Thursday morning to express their vehement opposition to the first of five LIV tournaments being held this year in the United States. And they sponsored a television ad that pilloried the tournament and the involvement of such stars as Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.The 30-second ad mentioned Saudi links to the terrorist attacks and noted that 15 of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia. It also made reference to the death of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a street in Portland in 2016. A Saudi community college student facing charges disappeared before trial and was apparently spirited back home by the Saudi authorities.The ad showed photographs of Mickelson and other stars playing here, gave out the Pumpkin Ridge phone number and criticized the Saudis for using the tactic known as sportswashing to attempt to cleanse their dismal record on human rights.“We’ll never forgive Pumpkin Ridge or the players for helping Saudi Arabia cover up who they really are,” the ad said. It continued: “Don’t let the Saudi government try to clean up its image using American golf tournaments.”The family of Terrance Aiken, who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, protested the Saudi-backed LIV Golf event on Thursday.Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian, via Associated PressTen Sept. 11 family members and one survivor of the attacks traveled to the Portland area to protest the tournament. They said they tried unsuccessfully to meet with some LIV golfers at a hotel on Thursday morning.Brett Eagleson, 36, whose father, Bruce, died in the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center, called the Saudi endeavor “shameful” and “disgraceful” and called on the LIV golfers to understand and acknowledge the kingdom’s links to the attacks, which took nearly 3,000 lives.He called on Mickelson to “be a man, step up, accept the truth of who you’re getting in bed with.”The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sept. 11 Commission, in its 2004 report, found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al Qaeda, which carried out the attacks. But there has been speculation of involvement by other, lower-ranking officials, and an F.B.I. investigation discovered circumstantial evidence of such support, according to a 2020 report by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica.Tim Frolich, a banker from Brooklyn who escaped from the 80th floor of the south tower but severely injured his left foot and ankle while running from the tower’s collapse, said the golfers had been “bought off” and were accepting “blood money” from the LIV series. The Saudi-sponsored tour offered signing bonuses, some reported to be in the nine figures, to lure some golfers like Mickelson from the PGA Tour.“This is nothing more than a group of very talented athletes who appear to have turned their backs on the crime of murder,” said Frolich, who will turn 58 this month.Mickelson was not made available to reporters on Thursday. In an interview published in February, he told his biographer, Alan Shipnuck, that the Saudis were “scary” and had a “horrible record on human rights,” including the 2018 killing and dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Mickelson later apologized for his remarks. He joined LIV Golf in June.No official attendance figures were given for the three-day tournament’s opening round, played under a cloudless sky with temperatures in the 70s. But the crowd to watch mostly aging players in decline was perhaps only a third of the daily attendance of 25,000 or so at a typical event on the rival PGA Tour. Mickelson, 52, finished the round at three over par, eight strokes behind the leader, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico. Still, Mickelson has a vocal and dedicated following.A number of spectators interviewed said they were simply interested in seeing a sporting event and avoiding geopolitics.“It’s messy, potentially, but I’m just here to watch golf and kind of block out all of that stuff,” said Stacy Wilson, 44, of Vancouver, Wash., a longtime fan of Mickelson’s who said she was taking advantage of an opportunity to watch him play in person. “I just choose to have tunnel vision about it and enjoy the game.”Some spectators noted that President Biden would be engaging with the Saudis in a trip there in mid-July. Others said they found it a double standard that golfers were being singled out when China has benefited from hosting two Olympics and from $10 billion in reported investments from N.B.A. team owners despite the country’s poor human rights record.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    LIV Golf Is Drawing Big Names and Heavy Criticism in Oregon

    As golfers arrive for the $25 million Saudi-backed tournament, a mayor, some 9/11 families, a U.S. senator and some Pumpkin Ridge club members have expressed outrage.NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Invitational series arrives in the United States on Thursday as it continues to roil a genteel sport with a slogan that promises, “Golf, but louder.” Except this is probably not the kind of noise its supporters had in mind.There is vehement opposition by some to holding the three-day tournament at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. The disapproval has come from politicians, a group of 9/11 survivors and family members, club members who have resigned in protest and at least one outspoken club board member. Critics have decried what they describe as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sports to soften the perception in the West of its grim human rights record.Portland is the first of five LIV (a Roman numeral referring to the 54-hole format) tournaments to be held in the United States this year. The newly formed tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-figure participation fees, has quickly become a threat to the long-established PGA Tour as marquee players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have joined the Saudi endeavor.The Portland tournament will take place as local fury still simmers from the 2016 death of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed while crossing a Portland street by a driver traveling nearly 60 miles an hour. A Saudi community college student, facing felony charges of manslaughter and hit and run for Smart’s death, removed a tracking device and disappeared before trial, returning home apparently with the assistance of Saudi officials.Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has been insistently seeking justice for Smart and beseeching the White House to hold the Saudis more accountable. He has criticized the LIV golf tournament, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, as an attempt to cleanse the country’s human rights reputation, a tactic known as sportswashing.Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the Saudis could not have picked “a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Jason Andrew for The New York Times“No matter how much they cough up, they’re not going to be able to wash away” that reputation, Wyden said in an interview. Referring to Smart’s death, he added, “The Saudis could not have picked a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Teri Lenahan, the mayor of tiny North Plains, population 3,440, has signed a letter with 10 other mayors from the area objecting to the LIV tournament, though they acknowledge they cannot stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge have resigned in protest.Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have planned a news conference for Thursday to discuss what they called the golfers’ “willing complicity” to take money from a country whose citizenry included 15 of the 19 hijackers.Critics of the tournament note that American intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, ordered the killing and dismemberment of the dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; that 81 men were executed in Saudi Arabia in a single day in March, calling into question the fairness of its criminal justice system; and that Saudi women did not receive permission to drive until 2018 after a longstanding ban and still must receive permission from a male relative to make many decisions in their lives.“I really felt it was a moral obligation to speak out and say we cannot support this golf tournament because of where the funds are coming from to support it,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The issue is the Saudi government publicly executed people, oppresses women and considers them second-class citizens. And they killed a journalist and dismembered him. It’s disgusting.”Escalante Golf, a Texas firm that owns the Pumpkin Ridge course, did not respond to requests for comment.The LIV tournament will go on, playing out against a backdrop of realpolitik. As a candidate, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for the murder of Khashoggi. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July, seeking, among other things, relief from the oil-rich kingdom for spiking gasoline prices in the United States.In truth, the issue of human rights frequently takes a back seat to financial and marketing concerns in the realm of international sports. China, for instance, was named to host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and the Summer Games in 2008. And the N.B.A. does robust business there. A recent ESPN report said the league’s principal team owners have more than $10 billion invested in China.Greg Norman, the golfing legend who is the face of the LIV series, recently claimed that the PGA Tour had 23 sponsors doing more than $40 billion worth of business in Saudi Arabia, saying in an interview on Fox News: “The hypocrisy in all this, it’s so loud. It’s deafening.”Greg Norman, above, chief executive and commissioner of LIV Golf, spoke at the LIV Golf Invitational welcome party, right, in Portland, Ore.Chris Trotman/LIV Golf, via Getty ImagesJoe Scarnici/LIV Golf via Getty ImagesThere have been clumsy moments in support of the Saudi involvement in golf. When asked about Khashoggi’s killing last month at a promotional event in the United Kingdom, Norman said, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”The creation of the LIV tour has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money.Speaking generally, Wyden, who briefly played college basketball, said the Saudi approach is “really part of an autocratic playbook.” He continued: “They go in and try to buy everybody off, buy their silence,” figuring that “something somebody is going to be upset about on Tuesday, everybody’s going to forget about on Thursday.”The Portland tournament will feature $25 million in prize money, including $5 million for team play and $4 million to the individual winner.At news conferences here, golfers acknowledged the financial attraction of the LIV tour. And they said they respected various opinions about their involvement. Some played down human rights issues, while others, like Sergio García and Lee Westwood, said they felt golf could be a force for good.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    Will LIV Golf Diminish PGA Tour Events Like the Travelers Championship?

    A prized mainstay of Connecticut’s sporting calendar for 70 years, the Travelers has become more than just a golf tournament.CROMWELL, Conn. — The Travelers Championship in central Connecticut, contested on a golf course beside cornfields, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this week, which makes it one of the oldest continuously operated PGA Tour events. Through the decades, the tournament has changed names and venues, but in a small state lacking a professional franchise in one of the four leading North American sports (the N.H.L.’s Hartford Whalers left 25 years ago), the Travelers has been a prized mainstay of Connecticut’s sporting calendar.It has also been valuable to the PGA Tour, reliably drawing some of the biggest crowds of the tour season. It is beloved by golfers because of its homespun approach that showers players’ wives and children with personal attention, and that in turn has produced a host of marquee winners like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson.Xander Schauffele playing his shot from the first tee during the second round on Friday.Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesThe 1995 winner was Greg Norman, then the No. 1-ranked men’s golfer worldwide. Norman is the chief executive of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, which has roiled the PGA Tour by luring top golfers with guaranteed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In the span of two months, the upstart circuit has threatened the primacy of the PGA Tour, and, potentially, the tour’s legacy events like the Travelers — which, in addition to entertaining southern New England golf fans, has attracted sponsorships that have led to more than $46 million in donations to 800 charities.The chief beneficiary most years has been a camp in northern Connecticut that helps about 20,000 seriously ill children and their families each year and was founded by a state resident, the actor Paul Newman.The focus of the intense showdown between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has been garish monetary offers to already wealthy golfers — along with a host of geopolitical underpinnings — but unseen in the struggle are other connected entities, like Connecticut’s treasured golf tournament.Could LIV Golf, which has planned eight events this year, including five in the United States, eventually upend or diminish the Travelers Championship and the other 30-plus PGA Tour events like it around the country? Already, Mickelson and Johnson, who were recently banned from the tour along with every other LIV Golf defector, are missing from this week’s field. Mickelson, 52, probably would not have played, but Johnson, the 2020 champion, had enthusiastically promised in February to return to Connecticut.Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesPGA TOUR Archive via Getty ImagesThree past champions, from top left, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, and Dustin Johnson, who are all involved with the LIV Golf series.Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports, via ReutersStanding on a hillside in the fan gallery overlooking the 18th hole during the first round of the Travelers on Thursday, Jay Hibbard of Woodstock, Conn., said Johnson was missed, “but not that much.”“Dustin took the money and made a choice, but I don’t come here to root for any one golfer,” Hibbard, 39, said. “Most golf fans come for the atmosphere and to see great golfers up close. And there’s enough other major champions out here this week.”Standing nearby, Mike Stanley of Plainville, Conn., said: “It’s a little depressing to see things get split up because I think it’s natural to want all the best guys playing together. But there’s still a bunch of top guys — I was following Rory McIlroy today and then Scottie Scheffler.”Scheffler and McIlroy are first and second in the men’s world rankings and were joined in the Travelers field by four other top 15 golfers. By contrast, no player committed to the LIV Golf tour is ranked in the worldwide top 15.Inside the players’ locker room here this week, Sahith Theegala, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie, said the players his age are of a similar mind: Their loyalty is to the PGA Tour.“I come from a modest upbringing,” Theegala said, “and I feel like the value of money has been kind of lost. It just seems like a million dollars, which a lot of guys earn on this tour, gets thrown around like it’s nothing, right?”Sahith Theegala lined up a putt on the seventh hole during the first round on Thursday.Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesAsked if he was worried about the future of PGA Tour events like the Travelers, Theegala shook his head.“There’s a history and legacy of this tour that the young guys have longed to be a part of,” Theegala said. “A new tour has no standing; you’re literally just playing for money.”A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    At the U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka Is in His Happy Place, and in Contention

    Koepka, who won the Open in 2017 and 2018, has made no secret of focusing on only the four major tournaments. He could be the perfect candidate to join the LIV Golf series. But will he?BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Brooks Koepka strode down the first fairway on a humid Friday morning, one fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothing.“It’s a great day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here,” the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”Koepka, wearing a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale green cap in the second round of the U.S. Open, heeded the fan’s advice, rebounding from an opening round 73 to post a three-under-par 67.That put him at even par after two rounds and in a familiar position — within striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the cut in his last seven U.S. Opens and finished no worse than tied for 18th.Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in 2017 with a score of 16 under par, and won again in 2018, speaks almost paternalistically about the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted toward the majors — those are the only events he has played since late March — and he seems to thrive on the challenges presented by this particular tournament.“I love this event,” he said. “This event has always been good to me.”It’s hard to argue otherwise. Koepka is the most successful U.S. Open player of the last decade.No one else in the 156-man field has won two U.S. Opens. The last four times he has played the tournament — he missed the Open in 2020 because of knee and hip injuries — he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place finish in 2019 and a tie for fourth in 2021, finishes that have earned Koepka more than $6 million. In those four events, only four players — Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English, have finished ahead of Koepka.“That’s pretty cool,” Koepka said, while adding, “I wish it was less.”He is one of only seven players to win consecutive U.S. Opens; the last to do it before Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.But given his lack of tournament play this year, it was difficult to predict how well the 32-year-old, four-time major champion — he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 — would fare. He missed the cut at the Masters. And he attributed his underwhelming performance at the PGA Championship in May — a tie for 55th — to focusing more on his upcoming wedding.“I was waiting for that party,” he said of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.Afterward, Koepka retreated to his home in Jupiter, Fla., worked for four days with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any talk of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.Koepka celebrating with his caddie Ricky Elliott after sinking his final putt to win the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock“I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on,” he said. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I love it but at the same time, I’ve got other stuff I like to do. The wedding was a big thing. Now it’s over with and I can go and play golf.”He became irritated with reporters at his pretournament news conference on Tuesday, chiding them for asking him and other golfers questions about the LIV Golf International series, the Saudi-financed rebel golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with enormous paydays. The tour will play its second event, one of five in the United States, near Portland, Ore., beginning on June 30.Koepka’s star power and penchant for downtime make him an ideal target for the upstart tour, which so far has announced eight, 54-hole events with shotgun starts, no cut and huge purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who have resigned their PGA Tour membership, or been suspended from the Tour, because they joined the LIV Golf series, can still play the four major tournaments that are not run by the PGA Tour, although that could change.)Koepka, ranked 19th in the world, also could command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have received as much as $200 million and Johnson as much as $150 million to join LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, plays on the tour.“I’m here. I’m here at the U.S. Open,” Brooks Koepka said when asked about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. I’m tired of all this stuff.”A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    A Weird, Wild and Entirely Typical Day at the U.S. Open

    It was a topsy-turvy second round on a vexing golf course as famed and anonymous players jockeyed up and down the leaderboard and turkeys paid a visit.BROOKLINE, Mass. — M.J. Daffue of South Africa, ranked 296th in the world, was not invited to the hospitality tent alongside the par-5 14th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday. But when his tee shot came to rest on the tent’s carpeted balcony next to a tree trunk, fence railing and overhanging, leaf-filled branches, Daffue was welcomed to the party.Eschewing the safety of a free drop on nearby grass, Daffue, who was leading the U.S. Open at the time, decided to use a 4-wood to smack his ball around the tree trunk, over the railing and under the branches to the 14th green 278 yards away.Nick Faldo, an NBC analyst, yelped: “What is he thinking?””I’m coming right over you, sir.” Solo leader @mjdaffue13 hits one off the deck…literally. #USOpen pic.twitter.com/5bo0YIIgpe— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2022
    As fans held drinks tinkling with ice nearby, Daffue implausibly curved his shot away from all the danger and watched as his golf ball settled feet off the 14th green to set up a chance at an eagle that would extend his improbable lead.“Made bogey instead, unfortunately,” said Daffue, who never again held the second-round lead. “It was kind of a crazy day out there.”Daffue could have been speaking for the entire field. While the first round of the 122nd U.S. Open on Thursday featured the theater of a first-ever face-off between PGA Tour loyalists and rebel golfers who have defected to the Saudi-financed LIV Golf Invitational series, on Friday that drama had receded at the Country Club outside Boston.It was replaced by something more typical for a U.S. Open: a topsy-turvy day in vexing golf-course conditions that had a cavalcade of famed and anonymous players jockeying up and down the leaderboard.An hour before the sun set, Joel Dahmen, who has missed the cut in four of the nine major tournaments he has entered and is ranked 130th, was tied for the lead at the halfway mark with Collin Morikawa, who at 25 is at the vanguard of the youth movement overtaking professional golf.Morikawa shot a four-under-par 66 on Friday to move to five under par for the tournament. Dahmen, a popular, convivial presence on the tour known for the bucket hat that rarely comes off his head on the golf course, matched Morikawa with a steady round of 68 after shooting 67 in the first round. Dahmen, 34, has never finished higher than tied for 10th at a major championship and has never held the 36-hole lead at the PGA Tour event. He did not qualify for the event until June 6 and almost skipped it to concentrate on the rest of the PGA Tour season.Late Friday, Dahmen was still not awed by his standing after two rounds.“This is really cool, but it’s really all for naught if you go lay an egg on the weekend,” he said. “This is fun, but it would be really fun if I was doing this again Saturday and Sunday.”An eclectic fivesome of golfers were one stroke behind the co-leaders: Jon Rahm, who is ranked second worldwide; Rory McIlroy, who survived a scare on the third hole when he needed three swings to get his ball out of thick greenside fescue but still shot 69; Hayden Buckley, a PGA Tour rookie; Beau Hossler, 27, who played his first U.S. Open as a teenager; and Aaron Wise, who has one career PGA Tour victory.Morikawa noted that there were more than 20 players within five strokes of the lead.“No one has kind of run away with it,” he said. “But I guess that’s to be expected on a challenging golf course at the U.S. Open. But right now, my game feels really good and the last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend. Hopefully, we can kind of make some separation somehow.”A fan, bottom left, after being hit by a ball from Sam Horsfield on the third hole on Friday.Julio Cortez/Associated PressThe unpredictability of day was personified by Buckley, 26, who did not play competitive golf until he was a junior in high school and walked on to the golf team when he attended the University of Missouri.“It’s all happened kind of fast to be sure,” Buckley, who had a victory on the minor league Korn Ferry Tour before earning his PGA Tour card late last year, said. “But I felt pretty relaxed and confident today.”Buckley faltered in the middle of his second round when he had three bogeys in five holes. But Buckley rallied to shoot four under in his final seven holes.There was some normalcy to the second round. Scottie Scheffler, who sits atop the men’s world rankings, shot a three-under-par 67 to vault into contention. Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters Tournament and three other 2022 PGA Tour events, jump-started his round by pitching in for an eagle on the 14th hole. He did not do it from the hospitality tent balcony where Daffue found his golf ball, but his tee shot bounded into the thick rough 40 yards right of the hole.Then, in a scene that fit the day’s uncommon nature, Scheffler had to wait nearly a minute while a turkey sauntered across the 14th green. Smiling, Scheffler, who shot even par 70 on Thursday, reset his focus and knocked the ball in the hole. With a birdie on the 16th hole and two closing pars, Scheffler finished at three-under par for the tournament.Turkeys on the fairway of the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated PressCollin Morikawa, the seventh-ranked player worldwide, began his round at one-under par but quickly stormed up the leaderboard with birdies on the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. (He started his round on the 10th hole.) Morikawa, winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship, first took the second-round lead with a fourth birdie on the first hole before registering his first bogey on the fourth hole. But he closed with a flourish, a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole to finish with four-under-par 66.Morikawa has four top-10 finishes this year, including fifth at the Masters.Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open defending champion, began his round at one under par like Morikawa and teed off on the 10th hole. He eagled the short par-5 14th and deftly putted as the sun emerged on Friday afternoon and subtly dried out the fast, undulating greens. Rahm had three birdies and two bogeys.Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club when he was 18, was among the first-round leaders when he shot 68 on Thursday. He continued his consistent, measured play with a 70 on Friday.Two familiar names also climbed onto the first page of the leaderboard Friday: Sam Burns, 25, who has won twice since March and finished second in another event, shot a 67 to move to two-under for the championship, and Brooks Koepka, the last man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, shot 67 after an unsteady 73 in the first round. Koepka was recently married, and he conceded the wedding limited the amount of practice time he could devote to his golf game. But he said he has regained his confidence with more work out of competition.Phil Mickelson improved on his erratic 78 from Thursday’s first round to shoot a three-over-par 73 in the second round, but his putting continued to be the worst part of his game and he did not make the cut.Mickelson, usually garrulous, did not talk after his round on Thursday and kept things brief on Friday. Of his comeback after five months away from competition, Mickelson said: “I missed competing, but I also enjoyed some time away.”Other prominent players to miss the cut included Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen, who have joined Mickelson on the LIV Golf tour, and Billy Horschel, who won the Memorial Tournament earlier in the month. Also not eligible for the final weekend rounds will be Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.Daffue, who finished at one under par for the tournament, was more than content to have more golf to play.“I’ve had goose bumps thinking about it,” he said. “I had an up-and-down day today, but to me, it’s nothing but good. I’m still going to play tomorrow in the U.S. Open.” More