LIV Golf held a celebration and a golf tournament broke out

Crowds for the first round of LIV Golf’s first event weren’t major tournament size, but they were decent in places around the Centurion Club, like when Phil Mickelson started.

HERTFORDSHIRE, England — The first LIV International Golf Series went down on Thursday with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an entity that has unlimited funds to put on a show with a golf tournament.

There were the Grenadier Guards, a fake version of the Buckingham Palace institution known as the Queen’s Guard, doing their duty in and around the Centurion Club.

There were the London taxis, perfectly organized off the course to transport players to their respective tees for the shotgun tee, a different format not usually seen in a professional golf tournament.

There was The Blades, a formation of planes streaking overhead as the music blared and the game started at exactly 2:15 p.m. local time.

And then… it was a golf tournament.

“Once you started it was just golf to me,” said Charl Schwartzel, who led fellow South African Hennie Du Plessis by a stroke after a first set 65. “But the start was a little different.”

Well, yes, about that beginning. The gunshot starts. Schwartzel started his round on the 3rd tee. When he got there, he was the only one. Wade Ormsby and Graeme McDowell hadn’t arrived yet.

Schwartzel wondered if something was wrong. “I called Graeme and asked him, ‘Am I in the right place?

It was.

While there has been considerable angst around the start of a new venture such as this, including the defection of several PGA Tour players – with more to come – to compete in a new format that includes teams, shotgun tees, only 54 holes and huge amounts of money, it has evolved into something you would expect at any professional golf event.

Crowds weren’t as large as you’ll see next week at the Country Club for the US Open or at this week’s RBC Canadian Open, with the PGA Tour event being played for the first time in three years in due to COVID-19 cancellations.

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But it was similar to what you might see on an early morning TV broadcast on the Golf Channel of a European Tour (now DP World) event in a faraway location, with a good number of spectators at premier positions plan and a little elsewhere.

And there were other familiar sights, like Phil Mickelson hitting trees or Dustin Johnson standing on a missed putt or Kevin Na – sometimes – walking one.

There was the seemingly effortless swing of Louis Oosthuizen, and the annoyed look of Sergio Garcia and the renewed good game of Schwartzel.

“Don’t get me wrong, this is the type of golf course you need to focus on what you’re doing,” said Garcia, who fired 71 shots. “It’s not an easy golf course. You have to drive the ball very well. It’s very tight. I only missed two rides and paid dearly for it.

“So obviously it’s something you have to be very focused on, and it’s a very solid golf course.”

Phil Mickelson was playing for the first time in more than four months, since the last round of the PIF Saudi International tournament, where he finished 17th. It was the last tournament he participated in before his life was turned upside down by his involvement with LIV and his comments on the PGA Tour.

After a slow start, Mickelson settled in to play the back nine at 3 under par and shoot 69, trailing Schwartzel by four.

“It’s been a while since I played, so I don’t know. It sounded awfully fun,” Mickelson said. “The people were great and it was fun to hit some good shots and get back into a competitive mindset. I really enjoyed that.

“It’s a very cool energy here.”

When it was over – and basically all over at once due to the shotgun leaving – the festivities began again. The players were brought back to the clubhouse in these London taxis. They went to a time zone to sign and attest their time cards. A few met with members of the media.

And then the music started up again, planes flew overhead and a concert with James Morrison and James Bay was about to begin. And it continued into the evening.

LIV Golf spared no expense to organize this golf tournament in the space of two and a half months. He rocked the golf world in the process.

But once on the ropes, well…that was golf.

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