Remember a few weeks ago when Jon Rahm had to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament due to a positive COVID test? Who can forget the scene of him walking off the green with his caddy, five-shot lead in hand, greeted shortly by Tour officials? Well, that’s in the past. He handled it as well as could be expected and was ready to move forward as soon as possible. Little did we know how soon that COVID comeback would be.
Back on Track: The COVID Comeback?
While the positive test from the Memorial Tournament forced Rahm into mandatory 10-day quarantine, after a week he received the best news he could hope for. After two PCR tests each tested negative 24 hours apart, he was able to end quarantine and was cleared to play at Torrey Pines. As evidenced by his play at Muirfield Village before the positive COVID test, his game was firing on all cylinders, and ready to make a run at winning his first major at the US Open.
During the first couple of rounds, the par 71 course bore its teeth a bit. With first and second-round scores ranging from 4-under 67 to 11-over 82, the leaderboard never strayed too far from a few strokes under par. Throughout the course of the weekend, many names lingered near that threshold. In fact, with so many bunched at the top, I thought for a moment we’d get to see the pairing that everyone wants. Though that spectacle was not to be, Rahm was steady in his scoring and the COVID comeback was well underway.
Working His Way Back
As I said, Rahm was in his groove for the weekend. Sitting at 2-under after the third round, he found himself three shots off the lead. Surrounded by names on the leaderboard such as Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, and Bryson DeChambeau, his work was cut out for him. Yet again, Torrey Pines gave and took all day. Players would get to within a stroke of or tie for the lead, only to then endure a tough stretch of holes, thus removing themselves from contention.
As Sunday progressed, players were completing their rounds and the clubhouse leader went from 1-under to 2-under to 3-under par. The bar was set and all eyes were mostly on Louis Oosthuizen in the final group. Ahead of him, though, Rahm was sitting at 2-under for the day, 4-under for the tournament entering hole 17. In order to have a realistic shot of winning, he really needed at least one, if not two birdies to close out. Especially because hole 18 was a gettable par 5 that Oosthuizen would also have a good chance to birdie.
The Putts That Won the US Open
On 17, Rahm hit his tee shot a bit right and it rolled into a fairway bunker. Just over 120 yards out, Rahm put a wedge to about 24 feet. Not a straightforward putt by any stretch, Rahm buried the left-to-right breaker in the center of the cup. This was of course followed by a Tiger-like first pump. That was good, but it wasn’t enough.
Finding the left side of the fairway on 18, Rahm put his second shot into a greenside bunker. Given that this was a par-5, this should be an easy up and down for birdie, right? Well, given the Sunday pin placement and his lie in the bunker, the only smart shot was to play to the center of the green. Problem is that this left another difficult left-to-right putt from 18 feet away. Wait, did I say problem? Nope. Right side of the cup. Draino. I mean, just look at that emotion on both of those putts…
Back on Top As World Number One
Though Rahm was done, he undoubtedly sweated a few bullets waiting for Oosthuizen to finish. When the latter putting his tee shot into the hazard on 17 – especially when he could’ve missed right like everyone else and still been fine – the ensuing bogey put Oosthuizen two strokes behind Rahm.
Needing an eagle to tie Rahm for the lead, this wasn’t out of the question as Oosthuizen scored exactly that in the third round on Saturday. However, with his drive finding the left rough, Oosthuizen couldn’t get his ball onto the green with his second shot. This left a 70-yard approach that he needed to hole out to tie Rahm. Although he hit a nice wedge to 10 feet, even the birdie was not enough. Jon Rahm was the winner of the 2021 US Open and ironically, for the first time since his 2020 Memorial Tournament victory, he claimed the title of number one golfer according to the Official World Golf Rankings. The COVID comeback was complete.
The Father’s Day He’ll Never Forget
Recall that earlier this year, Jon Rahm’s wife, Kelley, was pregnant with the couple’s first child. He notably said that, with his wife due around the Masters, he had no problem leaving the tournament if she went into labor. Luckily, their son Kepa Cahill Rahm was born just before the tournament began. Now almost three months old, baby Kepa and Kelley were on hand for what will arguably be the best Father’s Day Rahm will ever experience. His first major tournament win came on his first-ever Father’s Day. As he himself said, “It felt like such a fairy tale story that I knew it was going to have a happy ending. I could just tell… that something special in the air.” As a father of three, I can unequivocally say, we all felt it too. Congratulations, Jon. You earned it. All of it.
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