US Open can’t escape golf’s ‘black cloud’ of Civil War

If Brooks Koepka could play golf as enthusiastically as he growls, he might be vying to be one of the greatest golfers ever. Instead, for eight and a half thorny minutes, he was adamant that the “black cloud” looming over the US Open this week was not the result of a fire started by the LIV Golf, but a media fixation. “I didn’t really think about it,” he insisted, even after it was pointed out that his brother Chase was part of the inaugural field in Hertfordshire last week.

Perhaps a Saudi-backed breakaway player can buy a smile from Kepka, who has promised little in regards to not being the next PGA Tour player to drop ship. “Until now, there was no other way out, so where else are you going to go?” he said. But the price of silence is such that not even all the oil in the world can afford it, and the ongoing speculation about the battle for the future of golf will continue to cast its shadow long after the first tee hit on Thursday morning in Massachusetts.

This can be considered a shame for the US Open as the major returned to Brooklyn for the first time since the infamous 1999 Ryder Cup. Typically, the buildup has focused on the pandemonium that followed Justin Leonard’s game-winning hit (not yet), or whether Bryson DeChambeau’s biceps posed an existential threat to golf.

Instead, the world watches with admiration and horror as the Saudis manipulate hundreds of millions and turn sports into a geopolitical battleground. The levels of interest and intrigue in the tournament have skyrocketed as players take sides or remain suspiciously quiet while the public waits to see which domino will fall next. “Obviously it’s about touring at the moment,” said Matt Fitzpatrick. “Everyone wants to know what’s going on, who’s going and who’s not.”

Some of these questions will be answered when the LIV makes its first US stop later this month. However, it is clear that this week he is already a competitor in this area. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are favorites and de facto flag bearers for continued PGA Tour loyalty after their spectacular shootout at the Canadian Open last Sunday. “I was tossing and turning and losing a lot of sleep thinking about what could potentially happen,” Thomas said on Tuesday about the future of the tour.

John Rahm, the reigning champion, also went on the offensive, using his press conference to criticize the LIV’s 54-hole opening format and insisting that no amount of money could persuade him to tarnish his legacy. “The truth is, I could retire right now with what I earned and I would live a very happy life and never play golf again,” he said. “I never played golf for financial reasons. I play for the love of the game and want to play against the best in the world.”

Unfortunately, this view is not shared by everyone, and the fact that Amnesty called them “puppets” or accused a group of post-9/11 survivors of betrayal did not bring any moral insight to a number of players. The Ghost, who currently resides in Phil Mickelson, received a warm welcome in Boston during his practice rounds, while Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau and Patrick Reid are all capable of competing on Sunday. They anemicly answered questions about their character and then took refuge in the vast vaults of their recently overflowing bank accounts. If one of them wins this week, it would be a nightmare scenario for the PGA Tour, which has been unable to find a legal way to block LIV players from major tournaments.

Subplots make this tournament one of the most anticipated US Opens in recent memory, and a field known for one of the sport’s greatest battles now hosts a fight for its future. The 156 players vying for a place in history will be in the spotlight for the next four days, but the Saudi Arabian invasion won’t be sidelined either. Too much is at stake, and with both sides refusing to give up any ground, the crack at the heart of golf is only getting deeper every day. Against this background, the question of whether McIlroy can end his severe drought or whether Scotty Sheffler can become just the sixth player in history to win the Masters and the US Open in the same year seems belated. Cap may be “tired of it all” but the golf civil war has only just begun and he’s at the forefront along with every other player, even if it’s just a pathetic shrug.