Mastrodonato: With no LIV golfers in contention, U.S. Open a giant success for PGA Tour

BROOKLINE — LIV Golf players wanted more free time.

They got it.

PGA players wanted to compete against the best in the world on storied courses with historical significance while boosting their legacy in the world of golf.

Everybody won at the U.S. Open in Brookline this week, most importantly the sport, which survived a doomsday scenario in which an LIV Golf entrant captured a major championship.

The Country Club ate up the pretenders and allowed only true contenders to emerge.

Matthew Fitzpatrick, the cheery 27-year-old from the United Kingdom, lifted the trophy after an incredible week in which he finished with a 6-under-par 274 score.

Fitzpatrick, who had never won on the PGA Tour but won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at this course, outlasted a couple of young Americans, Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler, to capture the title.

The leaderboard was an adventure on Sunday, with many of the world’s finest players in the hunt until the very end. But there was one group of golfers noticeably absent from contention: all 15 of the LIV Golf series participants who, despite being banned from the PGA Tour due to their defection, will be allowed to compete in all four major tournaments because they’re not hosted by the PGA Tour itself.

It was clear on Thursday and remained obvious right through Sunday: the LIV Golf guys couldn’t cut it.

Critics say the LIV Golf guys are mostly has-beens and never-wills. Still, there’s unquestionably talent on that tour, from 52-year-old Phil Mickelson to a pair of top-30 players in Dustin Johnson (No. 16) and Bryson DeChambeau (No. 29).

They were all reportedly paid between $100 million and $200 million by the Saudi’s “Public Investment Fund” to defect, but said they were doing so not only for the financial benefit, but because they preferred the new format. There are only eight LIV Golf events this year. There are only 48 players in each event. There are no qualifiers. There are no cuts. There are only three days of golf.

The players wanted more rest to be with their families, they said. They got plenty of it as 11 of the 15 LIV Golf participants got the weekend off after they missed the cut.

Only four survived: Johnson, DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Richard Bland.

And how’d they finish? Not well. Johnson was the best of them all at 4 over par, and he finished T24th. Bland (8 over) was 43rd, Reed (10 over) was 46th and DeChambeau (13 over) was 49th

Every single contender was a PGA Tour member who has grinded through the grueling schedule this year and qualified for a major championship that prides itself on requiring players to earn their spot.

To gain entry to the U.S. Open, more than 9,300 entered the qualification process. They came from all 50 states and 80 countries. They ranged from 13 years old to 79 years old.

LIV Golf events have no such thing as qualification.

Despite missing the cut with an awful performance of 11-over par through two rounds, Mickelson made $10,000 along with 81 other golfers who didn’t make the cut this weekend. Last weekend, he shot 10-over par in London at the LIV Golf event but made $146,000.

Moral indications aside, it’s hard to blame a player for taking the money overseas when he isn’t good enough to earn it here.

The U.S. Open reminded us what really matters: competition.

Consider one of Fitzpatrick’s signature moments on Sunday, when he shanked his drive into the crowd on No. 15 and needed to push through a sea of fans to find it. The crowd was so deep that, even after police and event staff pushed some of them back, Fitzpatrick’s caddie ran ahead and requested more clearance.

Crowds aren’t really something the LIV Golf players have to contend with; reports out of the series’ first event in London last weekend indicated sparse attendance.

Fitzpatrick sank a 48-foot putt to birdie No. 13. He had to be a magician to par No. 18 after he hit his tee shot into the bunker, then hit a 143-yard beauty out of the sand to leave him with two putts from 11 feet to win the tournament.

As he presented Fitzpatrick with the trophy, NBC’s Mike Tirico joked that The Country Club should rename the bunker on No. 18 after the Englishman.

Hitting big shots under pressure is how champions are born and the greatest moments in sports are made.

We won’t soon forget Fitzpatrick’s performance in Brookline at a course that players praised as being “brutal” but enjoyable to play on.

“I thought it was great,” said Rory McIlroy, who was in the hunt until the end and finished 2-under par, four strokes off the lead. “There were a few funky tee shots, a few tee shots I’m happy to not see again for a few years. But overall, really good setup, great U.S. Open.”

Then McIlroy appeared to take a dig at the LIV Golf series, which, in September, is hosting a tournament at The International in Bolton, more than an hour away from downtown Boston.

“To be able to play this championship, especially so close to big cities, I think that’s really, really important,” McIlroy said. “Great atmosphere; great crowds. It was a really good week.”

It was better than good. Without any LIV Golf players in contention, it was arguably a historically-great week for the PGA.