Justin Harding finds hitting golf shots easier than facing LIV Golf grilling

Playing golf has suddenly become easier than answering questions about the game. Just ask Justin Harding, who was pretty pleased with himself after a bogey-free opening effort in the Genesis Scottish Open but then looked as though he’d gone 12 rounds with Tyson Fury following a media grilling afterwards.

On the basis of his five-under-par 65 alone at The Renaissance Club, the South African would probably have merited a post-round chat with a posse of golf writers, but this particular effort, of course, was somewhat significant.

Harding is one of four LIV Golf players competing in the Rolex Series event, having initially been banned after playing in the first tournament on Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed breakaway circuit before an appeal process opened the door.

“I have not signed a contract with LIV, so I feel like I am in a slightly different position,” said the 37-year-old. “I’ve played in the ones I’ve got into via the world rankings and I have no idea if I’m in the next one.”

Justin Harding during the first round of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

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Following a hearing before Sport Resolutions (UK) on Monday, the Genesis Scottish Open suspensions imposed on Harding, Ian Poulter and Adrian Otaegui were temporarily stayed, pending determination of their substantive appeals.

Harding’s compatriot, Branden Grace, who won the second LIV Golf event in the US last weekend, was also then added to the field in East Lothian, where the quartet’s presence has stirred up a hornet’s nest.

“I assure you, I’m well aware of that!” insisted Harding. “Look, at the end of the day, it was an event, it was an invitational, it was worth a bucketload of money. And it felt like I could play in it.

“I’m not going to go into the logistics of the regulations and what’s right and what’s wrong. Ultimately, I’m a golfer and I felt I was entitled to play in the event and I chose to do so.

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Ian Poulter tees off the 10th - his opening hole - at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“I’m trying my best to just play golf, put food on the table. I am by no means a fighter, I’m not confrontational so it’s an awkward situation to be in. I always thought it would be a bit tricky but didn’t realise it was going to be blown up as much as this. I thought it might have been handled a bit better by all parties.”

Harding and fellow DP World Tour winner Otaegui received polite applause from four people in the small grandstand at the first when they teed off at 7.15am in the opening group.

“I was a little upset when I was told I could not play,” said Harding. “I have supported the European Tour for a long period and I’m happy to continue to do so. I’ve not had too many issues (with other players). There’s times when it’s a little uncomfortable, but we have to look after ourselves.”

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It was also a decent day’s work for Grace as the former Dunhill Links champion signed for a 69, but, after chipping in for a birdie at his opening birdie, Poulter struggled to a 78. With Otaegui carding a 71, the LIV Golf men were a combined three-over.

There was no sign of fans showing any ill will towards Poulter, though, at the same time, he didn’t exactly receive any rousing support from outside the ropes.

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