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Phil Mickelson bidding to complete career grand slam at venue steeped in history

The US Open gets under way at Brookline on Thursday (Robert F Bukaty/AP/PA)
The US Open gets under way at Brookline on Thursday (Robert F Bukaty/AP/PA)

From ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ to the “the most disgraceful and disgusting moment in the history of professional golf”, Brookline has witnessed both ends of the golfing extreme.

The former is the title of a book and film telling the amazing story of amateur Francis Ouimet, whose house overlooks the 17th green, and hCis 1913 US Open victory over British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

The latter is how Europe vice-captain Sam Torrance referred to the scenes on the 17th green during the 1999 Ryder Cup after Justin Leonard’s long birdie putt sparked wild and premature celebrations as his opponent, Jose Maria Olazabal, waited to take his own putt to keep the contest alive.

Ouimet House US Open Golf
The boyhood home of Francis Ouimet, the self-taught former caddie who won the 1913 US Open (Robert F Bukaty/AP/PA)

That was the culmination of a hostile week which saw Colin Montgomerie’s father leave the course due to the amount of abuse his son was receiving, while captain Mark James reported that one spectator had spat at his wife.

Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia are the only players from 1999 in the 156-man field for this week’s 122nd US Open and, while similar scenes are certainly not expected, both men have reason to be wary of the famously raucous Boston fans.

Garcia has long been a target for US crowds for a variety of reasons, while Mickelson has become the figurehead for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf events which Rory McIlroy believes are “fracturing” the game.

Mickelson’s comments that he was fully aware of Saudi Arabia’s “horrible record on human rights” but that he was using the threat of a breakaway to “reshape” how the PGA Tour operates cost the six-time major winner a host of sponsors and sent him into self-imposed exile.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson speaks to the media during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Club (Steven Paston/PA)

Yet four months later, after missing the Masters and the defence of his US PGA title, Mickelson re-emerged at the first LIV Golf event at Centurion Club in Hertfordshire, where he tacitly confirmed that he had received 200million US dollars (£159.5m) to sign up.

In response, a group representing victims’ families and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States accused Mickelson and a number of fellow high-profile American players of sportswashing and betraying their country.

Mickelson’s expression of “deepest sympathy” did not go down well with the group – – and it will be fascinating to see what sort of reaction awaits the left-hander, who celebrates his 52nd birthday on Thursday.

“I think the Boston crowds are some of the best in sports, and I think that they have given me a lot of support, and I’m very appreciative of that over the years,” Mickelson said during his pre-tournament press conference.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson poses for a photo with a fan during a practice round ahead of the US Open at Brookline (Charlie Riedel/AP)

“I think that their excitement and energy is what creates such a great atmosphere, so whether it’s positive or negative towards me directly, I think it’s going to provide an incredible atmosphere to hold this championship.

“I think it’s going to be a great event, and the people here have a lot to do with that.”

Away from the slings and arrows of golf’s civil war, Spain’s Jon Rahm will attempt to defend the title he won with birdies on the final two holes at Torrey Pines last year, while Rory McIlroy seeks a first major since 2014 on the back of his own thrilling title defence in the RBC Canadian Open.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick will aim to emulate Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win the US Amateur and US Open on the same course, Nicklaus doing so at Pebble Beach and Fitzpatrick having won at Brookline in 2013.

Whatever happens, for many it will simply be a relief when focus turns to matters on the course, rather than off.