SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm had safely deposited his infant son back in his wife’s arms by the time a seemingly unflappable Louis Oosthuizen finally coughed it up on the 17th hole at Torrey Pines. He stood, hands on hips, watching on TV as Oosthuizen’s par putt slid past the hole and it became increasingly clear he would become a U.S. Open champion.
Just behind him, Bryson DeChambeau was tapping in for par on No. 18 – but for once he wasn’t must-see TV. DeChambeau’s collapse on the back nine Sunday was as epic as it was shocking though it wasn’t as if he didn’t have a lot of company.
He did, however, have an explanation that any hacker can relate to.
“It’s golf. It’s life,’’ DeChambeau said. ‘‘I’m just proud that I can hold my head up right now.’’
The U.S. Open is almost always going to be the toughest test in golf. But the best municipal course to sit on the edge of the Pacific Ocean wasn’t supposed to kick everyone around like this.
DeChambeau had the lead with 10 holes to play, then proceeded to play them 8-over par. Oosthuizen was as steady as could be before finding a canyon off the 17th tee that doomed his chances.
Mackenzie Hughes hit a ball into a tree on No. 11 and it didn’t come down. One of DeChambeau’s wayward shots ended up resting next to an abandoned 12-pack of beer.
And then there was the streaker who met an untimely end in the hands of a burly cop after bringing his own club onto the 13th hole to hit a few shots.
None of it is going to make anyone forget the putt Tiger Woods made on the 18th hole to send the Open into a playoff he won on a broken leg the first time the Open was held at Torrey Pines in 2008. But this one was memorable for reasons of it’s own, including the two sloping left-to-right putts Rahm made for birdie on the final two holes to win his first major championship.
Torrey was so tough it took karma – and a lot of it – to crown this new champion.
“I’m a big believer in karma, and after what happened a couple weeks ago I stayed really positive knowing good things were coming,” Rahm said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place.”
Special as an Open venue, of course. Any debate that Torrey Pines wasn’t suitable for a second major championship was settled in a chaotic back nine that did just what the USGA set out to do – identify the best player in the field.
Special for Rahm, no doubt.
He won his first PGA Tour tournament here in the Farmer’s Insurance Open. He asked his wife to marry him on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. His infant son was with him on this, his first Father’s Day.
And he returned to play here for the first time since being escorted off the 18th green at the Memorial after testing positive for COVID-19 while building a six-shot lead through three rounds.
“It’s the exact reason why I won,” Rahm said. “It had to happen in a beautiful setting like this.”
The follies of a few weeks ago will now become a minor footnote in Rahm’s story. The first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open came back from quarantine to win not just because he was the best player in the field this week, but because he handled the disappointment of the Memorial so well.
No pouting. No finger-pointing. No blame for anything except an insidious virus that has killed so many here, and so many in Rahm’s home country.
He’s lost friends, and seen families devastated. He knows he’s privileged to play golf for a living, and he wasn’t going to whine about what might have been.
“This is the power of positive thinking. I was never resentful for one second for what happened,” Rahm said. “And I don’t blame anybody. It’s been a difficult year, and unfortunately COVID is a reality in this world, and it’s affected a lot of people. I got out of what happened the best possible hand because nobody in my family got sick. I barely got any symptoms.”
He was always, Rory McIlroy said, a major champion in waiting. It was just a matter of time before the immensely talented 26-year-old broke through.
He’s now linked forever to a place he loves so much.
And that might be karma at its best.
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