Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Jon Rahm led the Memorial Tournament by six shots after Saturday’s third round, then found out he’d have to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. What’s your take on this bizarre episode?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): You certainly picked the right adjective – bizarre it was. I feel badly for Rahm, and I’m sure he had no idea that he was positive, but I did hear some vague rumblings about him walking around at Muirfield without a mask, after he’d received the test results. That’s very bad, if true. But I wish him a speedy recovery.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): This was tough to watch. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to win. It was more than unfortunate, but whether he was vaccinated or not is irrelevant, he could still test positive for COVID regardless. My point, the people jumping on Rahm about only getting his first shot on Monday (when he was notified, he was in close contact to someone who tested positive for COVID) doesn’t make any sense. If you are vaccinated partially or fully, doesn’t mean you can’t contract COVID. I don’t know the circumstances of his exposure, who it was or if Rahm was breaking protocols outside of the Tour. I just know, I wouldn’t want to be the person who transmitted it to Rahm, I’m sure that would be an extremely awkward conversation.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I don’t want anyone to be sick with anything. However, many have treated this deadly virus like it was a common cold. The PGA TOUR should have mandated all their players to be vaccinated before allowed to play any event. Other Professional sports franchises make special arrangements for MRIs, CT scans and emergency surgeries ahead of the general public by paying a fee. Why doesn’t the PGA TOUR have a similar program for their staff and players? I feel bad for Rahm, but his body is his office. He did not take the proper measures to protect himself, his family, his fellow players, fans, staff etc. I hope he doesn’t suffer any long-haul loss of putting nerves, but he owes a lot of people an apology. However, given so many people think golf is safe, I can understand why he felt secure (sarcasm). All you have to observe is the thousands of spectators and not one mask to know this virus isn’t over by a long shot.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s bizarre but hopefully pushes other players to get their damn shots already. I get the sense that a good majority of the players on Tour aren’t getting vaccinated, which is a shame, as they could be influential in others getting the jab. I don’t feel bad for Rahm really, perhaps that’s harsh, but I just feel he should have taken care of that months ago given their accessibility to the vaccine.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: A couple of friends have places in Arizona; one a double-wide parked in Mesa, the other a condo on a course in Phoenix (I like him better). They both snuck down over the past few months and got double doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Rahm lives in Arizona. Obviously, he didn’t get his jabs. Hope that doesn’t mean he’s an anti-vax nut job when he’s not on TV. It’s all on him.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I don’t know Jon Rahm’s politics or his views on vaccines, but it seems to me if the vaccine were available, which it was, and it ensured not only his health but also those close to him, including his new baby, then why the hell wouldn’t he get it? This incident could easily have been avoided and then maybe we’re talking about Rahm repeating as Memorial champ. Sorry it had to happen but it’s totally on him.
Yuka Saso won the U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club after a thrilling finish and a playoff with Nasa Hataoka. The playoff might never have happened if Lexi Thompson hadn’t blown a five-shot lead on the back nine Sunday. What’s the bigger story here: a 19-year-old Filipino golfer wins her first LPGA event, and first major or veteran Lexi loses the US Open?
Deeks: I think the Lexi angle is the bigger story, both in the present and in future, when they talk about this tournament. I give Yuka Saso credit for winning, especially after coming off two double bogies at the start of the round… but it’s not as if she made a charge; she backed into the playoff, and I’m sure no one was more surprised than she was at the end of the day. Lexi’s collapse was pretty stunning, and even though I’m no fan of hers, I feel badly for her. Chalk up a second Major back-nine collapse for Olympic (after Arnie’s historic seven-shot blow-up in 1966).
Loughry: I watched this unfold on Sunday unfortunately. I was pulling for Lexi when she opened up that lead, it was hard to watch it erode so quickly. But Saso finished her final round like a Champion (a couple of birdies on 16 and 17) coming in, after a rough start, back-to-back doubles on 2 and 3. Even bigger was her being the first Professional Golfer from the Philippines to win a Major, proving once again this is a global game.
Schurman: Some players/teams are built for the most demanding tests and others aren’t – just look at the Leafs. Lexi is a wonderful player and seems like a nice person, but she can’t expect to win the big ones flailing around as she does. Neither of the other two players swings in an out-of-control manner. Her game is suited to high performance when the atmosphere is casual and/or regular. I cannot name one major champion, male or female, who swung out of balance except Jordan Spieth, who overcomes his lack of balance and inconsistent swing plane by pitching in from 50 yards and sinking bombs.
Rule: Both big stories, Yuka Saso is a budding superstar, so it’s her coming out party, and what an amazing performance late on Sunday. And of course the opposite for Lexi, another heartbreak. I feel for her as she’s a very likeable person and easy to cheer for, and the Tour needs the top American players to win some big events. It would have been a great victory for her and hopefully doesn’t affect her mentally moving forward. She has overcome lots of adversity in her life, so she should bounce back.
Quinn: Once more I’m in the minority — agreeing with Brandel Chamblee. He pointed out that Lexi’s awful eagle putt attempt on one was startling and a harbinger of her incredibly feeble putt attempt on 18 to get into the playoff. Blowing the five-stroke lead took a lot of work, a lot of bad club selections (no help from her caddy) and terrible putts. Lexi lost it, but the ‘winner’ is charming.
Mumford: Saso is a nice Cinderella story, but Lexi lost this, and it will hurt more than some of her other missed opportunities. It wasn’t a bad break or a stupid 4-stroke penalty. Nobody chased her down with an incredibly low round. Those are out of her control and excusable. In this case, she just blew it. When she needed it most, every part of her game fell apart and she had no ability to fix it or steady herself. It was hard to watch.
The Olympic Club has hosted a number of men’s U.S. Opens but this was the first time for the women. Along with Oakmont in 2010, Pinehurst No.2 in 2014 and Pebble Beach in 2023, the USGA is making an effort to host the women’s national championships on better courses and perhaps more importantly, courses the men have also played. How much does the host course weigh in your decision to watch women’s golf?
Deeks: It’s certainly a factor for me, but not a major one. I enjoy watching women’s golf, period as much as I enjoy watching men’s golf. And if Brooke is in contention, I’ll favour watching her tournament over the men’s, even if one our boys is on the leaderboard. I give the USGA credit for choosing the top courses for the women; there’s no reason they don’t deserve it. I thought Olympic looked spectacular, especially from the drone’s eye view. Wouldn’t it be great to finally have a Women’s Masters, at Augusta National? One other comment, though: I think it’s a shame that galleries for women’s events are about 1/10th the size of the average men’s event. I think you can chalk THAT up to American xenophobia.
Loughry: I love watching any tournament at a historic and or world class golf course, and tune into all Majors: Woman’s, Men’s and Amateurs. But I also know I’m inflicted with this “golf bug”. I can also appreciate from an interesting standpoint what clubs do when they host such events the week of and leading up to. It shows me the commitment these world class private clubs have to golf by hosting world class championships, and even state/provincial championships and 1-day qualifying events. It is truly aspirational to see such clubs host events, the facilities that do host these tests of golf can truly call themselves Championship calibre courses.
Schurman: The LPGA is a great show with plenty of entertainment value. Yes, they need to play high-profile courses to attract attention. I watch the US Open regardless of venue. One area where the promotion of women’s golf failed this week is with the TV announcers. Rich Lerner, Tom Abbott and Morgan Pressel are as exciting to hear as quarantining for Covid. In fairness, all the top broadcasters were busy on their respective networks. That is, all but Judy Rankin, who didn’t work anywhere this week. Plus, the monumental insult of transferring the coverage from NBC to Golf Channel during the play-off. Granted they had to deal with the Champions Tour and Memorial. As luck would have it all three were on at the same time so I elected to watch Stephen Ames’s victory while taping the Memorial and the Ladies. Of course, I’ve discovered when doing that you must also record the next two or three shows following the golf, or you don’t see the finish. What I cannot prepare for is a channel change for the show during the telecast. As long as the media treat the Ladies with disrespect, their product will not develop, and neither will their purses.
Rule: I watch all of the women’s majors, but I’m definitely more interested when it’s at a top course like Olympic. I hope they continue the trend, can’t wait to watch them tackle Pebble in a couple of years.
Quinn: Course has nothing to do with it. Watched Sunday only because: (1) Rahm was out in Ohio (2) Lexi was leading in Frisco. Had Lexi not been at the top, the leaderboard looked like any other Sunday on the LPGA Tour (with Saso the only outlier being from the Philippines). Not exactly ‘Must See’ TV even if Olympic looks nice when the sun is shining.
Mumford: Having a familiar host course, especially one that has tested the men, is a big factor. The set-ups may be more benign, but the trouble is still in the same spots and the greens have the same contours. As Jim says, imagine the women playing Augusta, where you already know every bounce and roll. That knowledge is a huge plus in watching how they deal with it.