BROOKLINE, Mass. — Given the times, there could have been no more fitting venue for the 122nd U.S. Open than The Country Club, one of American golf’s five foundational pillars, associated in perpetuity with a man who did actually grow the game despite never competing for a nickel, and all during these waning weeks of golf as we’ve known it. Appropriate too that the championship was held 10 miles from the site of the Boston Tea Party, when aggrieved merchants rose against an imperial power, though Samuel Adams didn’t require guarantees from a foreign power before signing on to his rebellion.
This Open deserves to be remembered for all the right reasons: the transcendent performance of Matt Fitzpatrick, the magnificent old architecture holding its own against modern power, the enthusiasm of fans in a sports town that had been too long deprived of a major. That’s what it will be remembered for, in time. But it might also be recalled as one of the last majors of “before times,” when the structure of the professional game still resembled what it had been for a half-century or so.
The coming days and weeks threaten a radical upheaval in golf as more players opt for money and comfort over morals and competition, as the PGA and DP World tours scramble to align schedules, purses and priorities to retain the most elite talent, and as the major championships mull their power and how it might be best deployed, if at all. Careers and legacies were shaped at The Country Club. The shape of golf going forward will be molded in nondescript conference rooms and lawyers’ offices, beginning Tuesday morning 96 miles southwest of Brookline in Hartford, Connecticut.
More than 100 players will attend a meeting at which the PGA Tour will share more details on its plans to ring-fence assets (commercial and human) from the Saudis’ fragrant embrace. It won’t be marketed as such—there’ll be talk of upgrading products, growing opportunities, and the like—but that’s what it is. Among the audience will be some Benedict Arnolds who have already chosen to ply their trade for royalty. At 2 p.m. ET, the Tour’s board will be gaveled in to debate and potentially ratify changes that commissioner Jay Monahan hopes will begin guiding his organization out of a perilous situation.
Monahan’s team is still working on and closely guarding the specifics to be presented Tuesday. Likely included is increased cooperation with the DP World Tour (though shy of a merger) and details on three highly lucrative, limited-field tournaments that will eventually anchor a new-look Fall (which Fall, is TBD). The events will be staged in Europe, the Middle East and Asia with purses to rival the LIV Golf riches. One is likely to be held in the Emirates, a development sure to have whatabouters hurdling furniture to tweet claims that it mirrors LIV Golf’s relationship with the Saudi regime. It doesn’t. The Emirates are no one’s idea of democratic beacons, but there’s a difference between working in a country and working for a country, though that’s assuredly a nuance too complex for some.
The PGA Tour isn’t the only party to this conflict we’ll hear from. LIV Golf is expected to announce more player defections ahead of its second event, scheduled for July 1-3 in Portland, Oregon. And higher pitch whining should be expected from players who’ve already bolted, who after years of being lauded now feel unfairly maligned for laundering a butcher’s bloodied bonesaw. Graeme McDowell got a head start on that, bemoaning a “smear campaign” by critics, whose ranks include Jamal Khashoggi’s widow, September 11 families, Amnesty International and many players he once shared a locker room with.
All of this will take place amid the prevailing miasma of rumor and innuendo about who’s jumping and for how much, who’s double-dealing and why, and on whose turf the chief executive of the DP World Tour lays his flaxen head at night. As ever, it will be difficult to discern business from bluster.
In most respects, it has been a very traditional U.S. Open: 156 competitors arrived at a celebrated course in varying states of optimism, all but one of them were ground down to the nubbin, and not one of those contending Sunday afternoon spared a thought or word for the number on the check (it was $3,150,000, enough to impress everyone bar Greg Norman, but then he never cashed a dollar check for finishing first in a major).
This Boston tee party showcased much of what has bound players and fans alike to this game: competition with meaning, championships with stature, and yes, money. But never in the reverse order of importance. In 25 days, we’ll do it again, as golf’s oldest major championship is contested over its oldest course. Given the times, that kind of permanence is something to be grateful for.