If you’ve not been following Jon Rahm’s travails over the past few weeks, here’s a quick reckoner.
A heroic tale; almost fairytale-like, or, as Rahm mused at the post-championship US Open press conference—a movie script. It certainly couldn’t have been scripted better: the tragic hero who displays remarkable strength of character and composure when dealt a crushing blow, gets a stunning redemption. And that too, in a manner and of a magnitude, that not only erases the memory of his ordeals, but reaffirms the notions of some kind of nebulous system of divine fairness in the world we live in. Karma, if you ask us Indians.
If you’ve not been following Rahm’s travails over the past few weeks, here’s a quick reckoner. At Jack Nicklaus’ The Memorial Tournament, a couple of weeks before the US Open, Rahm led by six strokes going into the final round. His three-day record-equalling 18-under-par score, it may be conjectured, meant that the title was virtually in the bag. And that’s when, as he walked off the 18th green, Rahm was informed by tournament officials that he had tested positive for coronavirus, and must withdraw from the event. Cameras caught Rahm doubling up in horror, before he was led away to the scorer’s pavilion. In his absence, Patrick Cantlay went on to win the event with a score of 13-under—five shots adrift of Rahm’s 54-hole score.
The first news to emanate from Rahm post that traumatic event was on social media. “This is one of those things that happen 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 OK,” he tweeted. If composure and grace are indicators of a man’s strength of character, then Rahm’s stock just skyrocketed after that tweet. To be clear, Rahm wasn’t talking about dealing with failure here; he was talking about dealing with a cruel senseless loss—one that had nothing to do with something he had or hadn’t done. And what was at stake? By defending his title, Rahm would have leapfrogged back to being the top-ranked golfer in the world, not to mention the $1.74 million that would have been added to his nest egg.
At this point, the cynic in me has no hesitation in piping up: it’s easier to have equanimity about, literally, being robbed of a PGA Tour title (that you have won in the past) and $1.7 million if you have more than a few million in the bank. Clearly, that’s an unfair statement, but it does put into perspective the difference between what Rahm felt, and what we—judging by our own standards—imagine he must have felt. The ensuing quarantine also meant that Rahm would be able to make it to Torrey Pines, only on Tuesday of the US Open week, losing out an important practice round. Even though Rahm was asymptomatic, there was every chance that he would not be at his best, physically and mentally after the affliction. But all that is moot now: you’ve seen the highlights reel of Rahm’s magnificent final round 67, and especially the swinging 24-footer he made on the 17th hole to draw level with Louis Oosthuizen, and the decisive 18-footer on the last that pulled him one shot clear, and gave him the title.
“It felt like such a fairytale story that I knew it was going to have a happy ending,” Rahm said later. “I could just tell. I knew there was something special in the air. I could just feel it. I just knew it.” It’s rare to hear what sounded a lot like eastern mysticism coming from a European player struggling to articulate the inner voice that had told him that it was going to be his day. And that sense of preordained fate was equally palpable in Oosthuizen as he made yet another bid for a Major title. Something about the South African’s demeanour and gait on the final day betrayed a lack of conviction. He missed easy putts, and even when he did begin to make a few, there was a resigned air about him; almost as if he knew that nothing he did would be good enough. Oosthuizen is my favourite player of all time, and my heart broke for him, but, it’s some indication of the impression that Rahm has made on the golfing world in the last month, that even I was rooting for him. If there’s any solace for Louis, it is that his day too, will come. It’s been a season for redemption: what with Phil Mickelson winning the PGA, and now Rahm’s well-deserved victory after being cheated out of one. Have faith Louis. Sometimes, you’ve just got to wait it out.
On a last note, try as I might, one thing continues to bother me: why did Jon Rahm have to be informed of his misfortune at The Memorial in full glare of the cameras? I understand protocol, and the idea was probably to make sure he didn’t interact with fans or anyone else as he got off the course. But surely it could have been handled with a little more discretion and sensitivity. I’m going to give the PGA Tour the benefit of doubt and assume it was an oversight, and certainly not because the clip was bound to go viral. This does run at the heart of a debate that we’re seeing across professional sport: the right to privacy versus professional commitments. Sport, as the heart of it, is battle. And we, the fans, are the galleries. Now I claim no spokesmanship for others—least of all Brooks Koepka ,who thinks his feud with Bryson DeChambeau is ‘good for the game’—but golf’s thrills aren’t meant to satiate bloodlust. Call me old-fashioned but that’s just not the nature of the game: it’s not meant to cater to our baser or voyeuristic instincts. As a golf fan, watching Rahm double up and hold back tears didn’t take me closer to the action—it made me sick to the stomach.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game