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After Forced Hiatus, Rahm Seeks Return to Dominant Form

June 15, 2021 San Diego, Calif. By Dave Shedloski
Jon Rahm has an affinity for Torrey Pines, the place where he recorded his first PGA Tour victory and got engaged to his college sweetheart. (Robert Beck/USGA)

Jon Rahm feels “invincible” heading into the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, and why shouldn’t he when his form has been on the upswing, he’s playing a golf course where he’s had success, and the surroundings are both familiar and personally meaningful.

Plus, he doesn’t have COVID-19.

It’s that last bit to which he was referring when he threw out his “invincible” quip. Two weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio, Rahm was destroying the field in the Memorial Tournament, building a record-tying six-stroke lead through 54 holes and seemingly on his way to joining Tiger Woods as the only men to successfully defend at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club.

RELATED CONTENT: Jon Rahm Tuesday Press Conference

Then the unthinkable happened. No sooner had he holed out on the 18th green to tie the 54-hole tournament record of 18 under par than he was met by his trainer and the PGA Tour’s medical director Thomas Hospel, informing him that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The world No. 3 player was aware that a positive test was possible after having come in contact with an infected individual. PGA Tour rules stipulate that he be withdrawn from the event immediately.

That still didn’t soften the blow of missing out on a very good chance of his sixth PGA Tour title and the accompanying $1.67 million prize when he was putting on what he called “arguably the best performance of my life.” But he handled it, well … like a champ.

“I had a really good showing, and I was pulled out of the tournament right before the final round, but, … the PGA Tour did what they had to do,” said Rahm, 26, who watched the final round on television and saw Patrick Cantlay defeat Collin Morikawa in a playoff. “I've heard a lot of different theories: I should have played alone; I shouldn't have … that's nonsense. The rules are there, and it's clear.”

Rahm said he was vaccinated but hadn’t cleared the 14-day window when he tested positive. By this past Friday, he had tested negative, and a follow-up confirmed it. So he’s had a chance to start preparing a bit sooner than he expected, which prompted him to say: “I got it all. I had it, I got the antibodies, got the vaccination. I feel invincible at this point.”

Given how he played at the Memorial and that his first Tour title came at Torrey Pines in the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, Rahm is among the favorites when the U.S. Open begins Thursday on the South Course. The bashing Spaniard begins the championship on the No. 1 tee at 1:36 p.m. PDT paired with Patrick Reed, winner earlier this year at Torrey, and Marc Leishman, who triumphed in the 2020 Farmers.

Rahm’s best finish in five championship starts is a tie for third in 2019 at Pebble Beach. He was joint 23rd last year at Winged Foot. And while he has yet to win a major championship, his record in big events is rather solid. Only Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have a better scoring average in the majors the last four seasons, according to golf statistician Justin Ray. 

The only question is whether Rahm has had enough time to regain his Memorial form. He wasn’t sure but didn’t seem worried.

“When you don't hit a golf shot for just over a week or just about a week, it’s tough leading into a major, especially a U.S. Open. [But] I’m confident I can get in form quick enough. I still have two more days,” he said. “I still have the memory of all those great golf shots I played, right? I'm going to choose to remember that.

“I've been playing really good golf all year. Two weeks ago, it's finally clicking all together like I was waiting for it to happen. Finally everything was firing on all cylinders. Not that I'm expecting to play that perfect again, but I know that I can play at a really high level.”

He certainly can play at a high level at Torrey Pines, where he is 51 under par going back to his 2017 victory, five strokes better than anyone else. 

The feel-good vibes extend to off-course matters as well. Rahm proposed to his wife Kelley on the beach near the North Course in 2018, and they both find the San Diego/La Jolla area their favorite place to visit – and they do so once a month, he said. Not to go into all the specifics of the occasion, but Rahm summed it up well by simply saying, “It turned out perfect.”

Maybe this week he’ll add to that story with a perfect ending.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.