Question disgraced golf legend couldn’t cop

Phil Mickelson was involved in a testy exchange with reporters after his first round of play at the The Open Championship.

Mickelson said after finishing on even-par 72 that he didn’t attend the traditional champions’ dinner earlier in the week because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews didn’t think it wise.

The American is among a group of players who have angered the PGA Tour by joining LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded breakaway series which has triggered a civil war within the sport.

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“The R&A contacted me a couple of weeks before and said, ‘Look, we don’t think it’s a great idea you go, but if you want to, you can.’ I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I said, ‘Fine,’” Mickelson told the media.

“We both kind of agreed that it would be best if I didn’t.”

Mickelson isn’t the only former Open champion associated with the LIV series. Two-time champion Greg Norman, the CEO of the rebel league, was asked not to come to St Andrews for the dinner as his presence may have distracted from the tournament. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion, was there, however.

Out on the course, Mickelson was introduced on the first tee to some light applause from the sparse crowd. With the claret jug perched on a podium nearby, the six-time major winner teed up and let it rip.

He had a better reception than the one afforded to Ian Poulter, another LIV golfer, a few minutes earlier. Despite being a Ryder Cup great for Europe, the Englishman received some boos when he started off in front of the clubhouse on the first.

“Didn’t hear one,” Poulter said after finishing 3-under 69.

“I actually thought I had a great reception on the first tee, to be honest. All I heard was clapping.”

Veteran chips in for Open eagle

Along the course itself, both players got plenty of cheers and encouragement.

“I love being here,” Mickelson said after his round with three birdies and three bogeys.

“Everybody here loves golf, and we find this place to be very spiritual. As great as this game has been to me, to be able to come here to the home and compete again — I think this is my sixth one here — I’ve had some great moments here.”

It’s not exactly clear how many more are in his future, however.

R&A chief Martin Slumbers, threatened earlier to change the British Open criteria, possibly making it more difficult for players affiliated with LIV to gain entry to golf’s oldest championship. He stated, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Mickelson, though, said he has had no regrets about his decision to go with the new series.

“I love the events,” he said.

“I get to have golf in my life and competitive golf in my life on a scale that is fun, exciting, different, and lets me play and compete but still do the things outside that I want to do.

“I’ve got a nice trip lined up after this and things that I haven’t been able to do in the past. So, no, I couldn’t be happy.”

But after being pressed again about about his feeling towards missing the champions’ dinner, Mickelson’s patience quickly ran out.

“Let it go, dude. Let it go,” he snapped.

“It’s three times you’ve asked the same question. I don’t know what to tell you, I couldn’t be happy.”

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