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US Open planning for breakaway golfers’ future

United States Golf Association chief executive Mike Whan said he could foresee a day when it will be harder for those who joined LIV Golf Invitational Series to gain entry into the U.S. Open but he did not want to make a knee-jerk reaction on the matter.

Breakaway LIV golfer Phil Mickelson is playing in the U.S. Open this week.

The USGA cleared the way for the seven players who competed in the first LIV event in London last week to compete in the U.S. Open which starts on Thursday night, saying it would be unfair to change a criteria once established and deny entry to those who already earned a spot in the field.

But Whan said players on the Saudi-funded breakaway series should not assume they will automatically have a free pass when it comes to future U.S. Open tournaments.

Given LIV, which lured players with the promise of big money, has only played one out of eight scheduled events in its inaugural season, Whan felt it was too soon to discuss potential changes to entry criteria for future U.S. Open fields.

“It would be a lot of hypotheticals for me to get what LIV is going to be by the time we’re talking about this next year,” said Whan.

“But as we would do any year, we’re going to definitely reevaluate field criteria. We would any year. We will take a look at what the landscape looks like.

“I didn’t mean to send some sort of tremor that everything is going to change tomorrow, but when asked the question, could you foresee, of course I could foresee. What exactly that may or may not look like will depend on what happens to the landscape.”

Talk about LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and has rocked the sport to its core, has dominated the build-up to the year’s third major.

The PGA Tour has suspended members who signed up to play with LIV Golf and said any others who make the jump will face the same fate but Whan feels it is best if the USGA holds off on taking any drastic measures.

“I’ve seen a lot of things get started in the game, a lot of things, maybe nothing with this amount of noise, don’t get me wrong, or this amount of funding behind it, but I’ve also seen a lot of those things not be with us a couple years later, so don’t know where this will lead or where it will go,” Whan said.

“My job is to continue to bring in cohesion to the game, and I’m not going to stop doing that, but I’m also — one event doesn’t change the way I think about the future of the sport.”

Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka criticised the media for constant questions about the LIV Golf Invitational Series that he said were only serving to throw a “black cloud” on the U.S. Open.

Koepka, whose younger brother Chase played in the inaugural LIV event got frustrated when asked about the chances of joining him on the lucrative series.

“I’m here at the U.S. Open. I’m ready to play U.S. Open, and I think it kind of sucks, too, you are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open,” said Koepka.

“It’s one of my favorite events. I don’t know why you guys keep doing that. The more legs you give it, the more you keep talking about it.”

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland

Rory McIlroy is seeking his first major title since 2014.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, who posted top-10 finishes in his last three U.S. Open appearances said that he understood why some older players like Phil Mickelson decided to make the move to LIV but he felt younger competitors who did the same were taking the “easy way out”.

McIlroy has been an outspoken critic of the Saudi-funded breakaway circuit — where every golfer in a 48-player field is guaranteed a payday in a no-cut event — but feels those near his age who made the move were using short-term thinking.

“A lot of these guys are in their late 40s. In Phil’s case, early 50s. Yeah, I think everyone in this room and they would say to you themselves that their best days are behind them,” McIlroy said.

“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.”

The four-times major champion also said he is “disappointed” in how Mickelson made his move to LIV Golf but that he still has tremendous respect for the six-times major champion as a golfer.

Of all the storylines swirling ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, none are as compelling as Mickelson’s latest bid to win the tournament for the first time.

The 156-player field for the major, known as the toughest test in golf, features plenty of in-form players looking to build on impressive starts to the season but none will grab headlines like Mickelson will.

Mickelson has been a runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times and his latest bid to complete a career Grand Slam comes a week after he emerged from a self-imposed hiatus to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Mickelson was the toast of the golf world a year ago when, at age 50, he won the PGA Championship to become golf’s oldest major champion but he has since come under fire over comments he made about the breakaway LIV circuit.

The six-times major champion will tee off at The Country Club outside Boston under a cloud of uncertainty having not competed on the PGA Tour since January.

“That’s going to be a challenge, right. It’s the most difficult test in golf,” said Mickelson.

“It was important for me to have a little bit of competitive golf last week and identify some of the areas of weakness. It was one of the worst putting tournaments I’ve had in years.”

The 7,254-yard layout at Brookline will play as a par-70 and while it may not be long by modern PGA Tour standards it will command respect and challenge all aspects of a player’s game.

There are many blind tee shots at Brookline and all will require accuracy due to the unforgiving rough that is customary for a U.S Open and could be five inches (12.7 cm) in some areas.

– Reuters

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