What happened to we're all in it together? Alex Perry wraps up the week's talking points

Hello. Welcome to this week’s Slam. And it’s been a tense one. But before we get to Rickie Fowler and his Open upset, some news regarding the Olympics…

Olympic gains

We’ve seen a lot of players pull out of the Olympic Games in Tokyo due to tour commitments – notably Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka – but we’ve had very few do it the other way round.

Disappointingly, Juvic Pagunsan will not be travelling to Royal St George’s, despite qualifying for the Open in the coolest way possible. (Even more disappointing because I raved about him in my column in the latest issue of NCG magazine – which is really just an excuse for me to tell you it’s in your golf club now!)

Pagunsan qualified to represent the Philippines at the Games and has chosen to chase gold over claret.

And he’s been joined by three Koreans in making the same decision after PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im decided not to make the trip to the Kent coast.

But there is a little more than the “international travel requirements” reasoning cited by the R&A.

All able-bodied men in South Korea must undergo two years of mandatory military service, but there is one achievement that can get a player out of it – an Olympic medal.

At London 2012, footballer Kim Kee-hee came on for the last five minutes in the bronze medal match between South Korea and Japan. It was a substitution that saved him from military service and within a couple of years he was in the Chinese Super League earning millions.

Kim and Im will be hoping it’s not quite as tense in Tokyo.

Fowler fumes at R&A protocols

Right, let’s talk about Fowler.

The Californian has expressed his concern at how the R&A are treating the the players ahead of and at the 149th Open Championship.

The governing body recently announced that 32,000 patrons will be on the grounds at Royal St George’s. This suggested some sort of a return to normality – in the sport world, at least – until the players received a five-page notice outlining health and safety protocols.

It told them they must stay in official hotels or private self-catering rental accommodation with a maximum of four people per property – all of whom must be part of the player’s support group, while all of those in the “inner bubble” were warned against mixing with the general public in places such as restaurants and supermarkets.

There are not even any exceptions listed for vaccinated players.

“I’m vaccinated or whatever you want to call the shots,” Fowler said during the Rocket Mortgage Classic after playing partner Hideki Matsuyama was forced to withdraw after a positive Covid test. “But unfortunately I know going over there, it doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated or not.”

Another of the R&A’s rules is that any player coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid will be asked to withdraw – even if they themselves return negative results.

He added: “There’s definitely some concerns. [What] if there happens to be a couple of people on the plane that test positive when you get there? What happens with that? Obviously we’re all going into our own small bubbles and can’t be around other players.

“It seems like us as players, we’re jumping through some hurdles and dodging bullets and they’re having 32,000 fans a day at the tournament, so I don’t know. I can’t really answer questions clearly with all that going on.”

“Dodging bullets”? Come on, Rick. We’re hardly sending you into the trenches.

The R&A’s simple response is that their “absolute priority is maintaining the safety of the players, fans, and all involved in the Open” and they are doing “as much as we can to minimise the risks”.

Yes, it is annoying for caddies that they can’t do their usual money-saving trick of bunking together during tournament week. Or players can’t rent out unnecessarily large homes with their pals. But shall we just remind ourselves that we’re still in the grips of a pandemic?

And, despite a successful vaccine rollout by our wonderful NHS, there has been a worrying spike in positive Covid cases due to the Delta variant.

I feel bad for singling out Fowler on this as he’s definitely not the only player upset by all this, but he seems to have been ushered toward the microphone as some sort of unofficial spokesman for the stars – all of which are proving themselves to be horribly out of touch with the real world.

The point missed by the dissenters is that the fans will be required to follow a lot of strict rules too, including proof of a negative Covid test every 48 hours they are in attendance at the championship, as well as social distancing guidelines.

We’ve all been through so much since the start of all this. Is it really that difficult to ask a multi-millionaire to bunk up with his caddie and coach for a week?

It’s seven days. With the opportunity to win a major championship at the end of it. Surely you can handle that?

And if you can’t, it’s your loss. Not ours.

Mickelson’s mob run-in

Phil Mickelson has also left the Rocket Mortgage Classic confused and frustrated after the Detroit News published a story about how Lefty was once “cheated” out of $500,000 by a local bookmaker with links to the mob.

The newspaper decided to run the article by Robert Snell, an investigative journalist, the week Mickelson was in town. Fair enough. The PGA champion was the headline act.

Mickelson, naturally, wasn’t happy, and repeatedly called it “opportunism”, including in this tweet…

Perhaps he meant “journalism” because, whether you like it or not, one of the greatest sports stars on the planet once getting stung for half a mil by a mobster with a dodgy gambling history is of public interest – whether said sports star did anything wrong or not.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a “23-year-old story”, there was a lot of new information there.

It all ended up with Mickelson saying he won’t be back to Detroit next year. I’d wager that he will be. But not 500,000 big ones…

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

It was an Australian treble on tour.

First, 20-year-old Stephanie Kyriacou won her first professional title at the Big Green Egg Open in the Netherlands…

Then Lucas Herbert took the DDF Irish Open – his second European Tour title – to book his spot at Royal St George’s…

And Cam Davis completed the hat-trick at the Rocket Mortgage Classic…

Jin Young Ko lost her long-held World No 1 spot to Nelly Korda at last week’s Women’s PGA Championship. She reacted by winning the VOA Classic – her eighth LPGA title and 19th overall.

Final thought

While we’re here, I have nothing against Mount Juliet, but can we keep the Irish Open on links courses going forward, please?

Right, that’s enough from me. I’ll see you next week when I’ll be at Royal St George’s – Covid tests pending – and hopefully, football will have come home.

Stay safe.

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