Jon Rahm: Covid's Cruellest Sporting Victim
The debate for the world’s best golfer grew in intensity prior to play at the Memorial Tournament. Occasionally, there are periods in golf where it’s difficult to determine who the very best player is off current form. If you peruse the Official World Golf Rankings, then Dustin Johnson leads the way. However, Johnson has not been anywhere near his best for quite some time now - demonstrated by the fact he’s failed to breach the top 10 since the Genesis Open back in February. He’s sustained several injuries since then but where did the man go who ignited Augusta and made it into his personal playground?
So, we must venture down the list. Justin Thomas is currently ranked second in the world but his form has been wayward at best. Yes, he won at The Players but that was thanks to a blistering weekend more so than a sustained performance built over the four days. Furthermore, both Bryson DeChambeau and Lee Westwood opened the door a smidge for Thomas who, even with his erratic form, was never going to surrender the chance at the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
The irony is that I want to pitch to you that the best player in the world is ranked as the third best player in the world. But please, stay with me here. As is every sport, golf is a results business industry. It’s all very well performing to your potential week in week out but if you continuously miss the winning putt on the 72nd hole, what good does it really do? That’s where Jon Rahm currently fits in. He’s virtually up there every week but his finishing has been well below his demands of excellence – that was, until this week.
He opened with a battling 69 after bogeying both the 1st and the 10th. In true Rahm fashion, successive birdies on 11 and 12 helped to mitigate the advantage that Collin Morikawa was effortlessly building. Having been part of the same featured group, it was fitting to see Rahm respond in such turbulent fashion the following day.
Four consecutive birdies from the 4th through to the 7th demonstrated that Rahm was unfulfilled with his Tour leading top 10s for this season. He smelt blood and would settle for nothing less. What epitomised this remarkable display of golf was an ace on 16 – a hole he would later play again as the inclement weather disrupted Friday’s action. His second round outing of 65 had placed him in a tie for the lead with Patrick Cantlay. What neither player knew, however, was that the next 18 holes would effectively finish this as a competition.
It is rare to see a golfer dominate a golf course on the PGA Tour in the fashion that Rahm did during not only his official third round, but Saturday as a whole. Not since The Masters held in November had golf seen such a riveting display as Rahm danced his way through one of golf’s sternest tests. Muirfield Village was designed by arguably the greatest golfer to ever grace the sport – and Rahm made an absolute mockery of The Golden Bear’s design.
His 64 during his third – and final – outing of the weekend provided immense entertainment. Twice did the Spaniard secure three consecutive birdies, originally from 11 to 13 before emulating his achievement from 15 to 17. His approach into the 15th green may just be the shot of the tournament, as he narrowly missed his eagle putt to further flirt with the 61 course record set in 1996. As he finished his round, to high applause from the bystanders, an official cautiously walked over to the 26-year-old.
A brief, incoherent exchange between a rules official and Rahm took place. The mics picked up a short snippet of the golfer’s internal thoughts, perhaps more family-friendly that what was circulating his mind at the time: ‘not again,’ he sighed. For the next three to five minutes, the golfing world were completely uninformed. Naturally, it led to speculation. Had Rahm been penalised for a similar offence as last year? Was there a chance he could be disqualified? If so, what for?
Rahm’s caddie Adam Hayes pushed the TV cameras away from the direction of his golfer. It was clear that something drastic had taken place. Only minutes after the scenes took place, the PGA Tour communicated with fans that Rahm had tested positive for coronavirus and, after being in contact with a someone who had tested positive, he was subject to daily tests. Unfortunately for what was surely the finest display of golf this year, Rahm’s additional test told the same story and the Spaniard was forced to withdraw.
“I’m very disappointed in having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament,” a statement, published on his social channels read. “This is one of those things in life, one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people. I’m very thankful that my family and I are all ok.”
And that was Rahm’s last involvement in a tournament that he had completely tore apart. A golf course that Nicklaus thought would play ‘one or two shots easier,’ looked set to be absolutely overpowered, overthought and completely outplayed. Rahm’s departure – through complete misfortune – did conjure up a fascinating finale that Cantlay won via an entertaining playoff. But, as the entire golfing world understands, that was Rahm’s tournament.
Although driver off of every tee wasn’t viable, Rahm found 81% of fairways – a stark contrast to his 63.91% for the season. He located just shy of 70% of greens but when his approaches were dialled in, he was averaging just 1.5 putts per hole. Had his luck been different, we would have been praising Rahm for one of the most dominant displays in recent history. Instead, we are left pondering the question: is Jon Rahm covid’s cruellest sporting victim?
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