LIV Stars' Mental Games Holding Strong At 150th Open

Whatever you might think of Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood at the moment their ability to still perform is incredible

Ian Poulter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 150th Open was always going to be an Open like no other – the past few months have meant that it has been more unimaginable than anything than any of us could every have predicted.

Today, at 7.08 this morning, Ian Poulter was booed before he had even hit a shot at the Old Course. It might have been a few lone voices but he was definitely booed. The 46-year-old might have chosen to ignore it, either at the time or in his post-round press conference, or probably both, but it was just about as unthinkable as golf gets. 

This isn’t the Ryder Cup where golf goes a bit berserk for a few days, this is the biggest celebration of the game at the home of the game. And, if we’re being honest, the booing didn’t even feel like that big a deal. It's been coming and there will likely be more to come.

A big part of the build-up to this year’s Open has been toxic. Imagine, again, a two-time winner of the Claret Jug being uninvited to a Monday hit-and-giggle to celebrate the game’s great and good. Imagine Phil Mickelson being advised that the R&A didn’t think that it was ‘great idea’ that he too showed his face. 

Again, many of us will think this is all fair enough.

To be involved with LIV Golf and to play through all this has to be the strangest  experience of your golfing life. However much you roll your eyes and brush things off all of this has to be having an effect.

Poulter was asked 32 questions after his opening round and 26 of them were nothing to do with his three-under 69, a round that included almost doing an Ian Baker-Finch and missing the widest fairway on the planet and a round that included holing the longest televised putt ever.

Last week at the Scottish Open Poulter missed the cut by bundles, a tournament that he was only playing in after mounting a successful legal challenge. Now he’s in contention in a major – the 46-year-old last finished inside the top 10 in a major at the 2015 Masters.

In every sense possible Poulter’s mind has been one of the game’s biggest head munchers. For a player of, in relative terms, limited talent he is often able to out-perform others with far greater skills.  

One of the questions was his reaction to the R&A press conference on Wednesday where parts of his future career were discussed?

“Purposely haven't looked at all. So I don't want to know. You can tell me, I'm not going to listen. 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,” explained Poulter.

“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. I'll leave it to the clever people to figure stuff out, and I'll just play golf.”

You can take maybe all of this with a pinch of salt but he does, somehow, still manage to play his golf. This is the man who can shank it all over Augusta and still get it round, he’ll say the most ridiculous, cocksure thing minutes before a crucial Ryder Cup singles and he’ll pull it off.

Of course there are failings but he will actually somehow blank them out.

Lee Westwood

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lee Westwood will turn 50 next year. His best days, we like to reassure ourselves, are now behind him but he is part of a cluster of players on four under. His post-round chat consisted of 21 questions and all bar four had something to do with LIV Golf. It was prickly and told us nothing about his golf other than he managed to fit in some links golf at Seaton Carew as part of his preparations rather than play at Renaissance.

Think of all the years obsessing about that first major and that doesn’t even get a look in now.

Whether credit is the right word but something similar is due to the pair of them. Some will say they’re only playing golf, and that’s all they know, but to do that and excel on the biggest stage is something else with the incessant internal and external LIV chatter. You can hear it in every answer and it’s even more obvious in their body language.

And yet they can still perform. 

This is one exchange between Westwood and the media following his 68. 

“It (the crowd’s reaction) could have had the potential, with everything that's gone on, to have been different this time?”

“No, I don't think it has the potential. I think the media are stoking it up and doing as much as they can to aid that. I think the general public just want to go out there and see good golf no matter where it's being played or who's playing it.”

“It's not really a media thing, is it?”

“Well, it is.”

“It's not a complete construct. Golf is..”

“We could stand here and argue all day, but it is. I've spoken to a lot of people over there last week, and there's no animosity between players. Yet the story's been written that there are. Yeah, you're creating issues where there are none. You want to be that way, fine.”

“It's not me personally.”

“Somebody's doing it.”

The game is so ludicrous these days that we could be three days away from crowning a 40-plus home winner and this is how we’ll look back on things. The longer the week goes on, the more questions there will be, if that’s possible.

An Open like no other and three more days to come. 

Mark Townsend
Mark Townsend

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.