2022 British Open: Phil Mickelson, other LIV players challenge St. Andrews

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Sporting a white pullover and visor with seven different sponsors' logos visible, Ian Poulter didn't just answer reporters' postround questions at the British Open, he leaned hard into them. Poulter, always combative, had just come off the course after finishing out a -3 round, his first at an Open Championship since making the leap to the breakaway LIV Golf tour. The round included a spectacular 160-foot eagle putt for the Ryder Cup legend.

Poulter's not the only LIV player in the Open, but on Thursday, he was easily the most outspoken, pushing back on the idea that there was any criticism of him from the gallery. A sample of the back-and-forth repartee with the media:

Q. Of course there are a few boos when you're on the first tee.

POULTER: Didn't hear one.

Q. So it didn't affect you? People putting two and two together —

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

Q. A little bit of heckling as you went around. Did you hear that?

POULTER: Oh, my gosh, I have heard not one heckle. In three weeks, I've heard nothing. What have you heard?

If Poulter hasn't heard any criticism of his jump to LIV, he's been sealing himself in a soundproof bunker. Fellow players, golf officials, media and fans alike have all come down hard on players who have joined the lucrative, no-cut, small-field LIV Golf circuit.

Both Tiger Woods and the R&A leveled strong criticisms at LIV earlier in the week, with Woods questioning how players could perform at a high level without the incentive of the cut, and R&A chairman Martin Slumbers dismissing LIV's format. Asked about the critiques, Poulter didn't bite.

"Purposely haven't looked at all. So I don't want to know. You can tell me, I'm not going to listen," he said. "I'm here to play golf. This could probably be my last Open Championship at St Andrews. So I'm trying to enjoy it despite the questioning. I'm staying out of the way. I'm not reading social media. I just want to play golf, right? I can only do my job. If I listen to a lot of nonsense, then I'm going to get distracted. That's never going to be good for me."

Bryson DeChambeau also finished at -3, looking much stronger than he has in recent months. While Poulter sparred with reporters, DeChambeau sidestepped them, sticking to his "respect" line. When asked once again about LIV and his decision to leave the PGA Tour, DeChambeau stuck to the script:

"I respect everybody's opinions," he said. "Again, for me it was the best decision for me at that point in time and still is."

Phil Mickelson's go-to line was "I couldn't be happier," which he repeated four times in his own postround media discussion. Despite the fact that he was encouraged not to attend the Champions' Dinner — and he didn't — Mickelson insisted that, yes, he was just fine with how things have played out for him to date.

"I think that I couldn't be more excited and ecstatic with where I'm at," he said. "I love the events. 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 happier."

Mickelson, sporting a casual black t-shirt and a left-the-razor-in-the-States scruff, finished at even par, leaving him in reasonable position to make the cut on Friday.

The source of LIV's funding — Saudi Arabia's sovereign public investment fund — has drawn criticism, as has the breakaway tour's guaranteed-money, no-cut, 54-hole format. This Open could be the last major in which LIV players can qualify as easily as players on the PGA Tour and other tours; without a change to the Official World Golf Rankings, LIV players without automatic qualifying will struggle to make their way into future fields.

Phil Mickelson went with business casual in Round 1 of the British Open. (Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson went with business casual in Round 1 of the British Open. (Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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