There may have been plenty of chatter on the eve of the Open from the R&A and Tiger Woods about LIV golfers being driven by money and turning their back on the sport, but it does not seem to have distracted any converts to the Saudi-run tour at St Andrews.
One LIV defector, Abraham Ancer, insisted there was “a really cool camaraderie between us” after finishing day two on five under, while Talor Gooch, tucked neatly behind the leaders on seven under par, went even further: “Everybody, it feels like, is against us, and that’s OK. It’s kind of banded us together, I think.”
Not that Gooch speaks for all the LIV-ers. The Oklahoma native, 30, is developing a bit of a habit in that regard, after comparing his recent team win at the LIV event in Portland to competing in a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup, comments that even made Dustin Johnson – his LIV teammate and someone who has actually competed in those two competitions – laugh. “A bunch of players came up, and they’re like really? Really?” explained Gooch on Friday. “I was like, hold on a second, guys. Give me a little break. I just won [the team event]. I was in the moment. I might have gotten a little aggressive with the comments.”
“I watch F1,” Gooch continued. “I was so pumped to be able to spray champagne like they do in F1. I was in the moment. Maybe a little aggressive of a comment. Rightfully so, I’ve taken a little bit of heat for it.”
Johnson, who lies nine under par here after an impressive second-round 67 on the Old Course, has chosen a different tack. When asked if he feels galvanised by the comments against LIV in the last few weeks, the two-time major champion simply responded: “I don’t really know what you’re talking about.” Instead, Johnson seems to be choosing to ignore the noise. “I don’t read anything”, he said. “So I wouldn’t know what you were saying or if there was anything negative being said. It doesn’t bother me because obviously, everyone has their own opinion and I have mine, and the only one I care about is mine.”
Whether this is a coordinated tactic or not, this sudden aversion to reading appears to be a strategy employed by other LIV golfers who are going well at St Andrews. Ian Poulter, at three under, announced he “purposely hasn’t looked” at the R&A’s comments. “I don’t want to know. You can tell me, I’m not going to listen. I’m here to play golf,” he said. Sergio García, who rocketed up the leaderboard with a 66 on Friday, simply deadpanned to reporters: “I don’t know how to read any more.”
Whatever the gameplan is, it seems to be working. A strong LIV contingent is converging behind second-round leader Cameron Smith, and while the R&A will not publicly admit it, it will be uneasy at the possibility of handing the Claret Jug over to a member of golf’s new world order on Sunday in the most historic of settings.