The text came in around 10:30 p.m. Thursday night. After setting his alarm for an early morning tee time he was fully committed to play…there it was: The Players Championship was canceled.
Though disappointing, the announcement from the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan was far from shocking for Jon Rahm.
Despite getting off to a solid start at The Players Championship with an opening round 69, and the initial decision to continue play of the tournament without spectators, the world’s second ranked player had an uneasy feeling.
“I think, actually, we all sensed something before the announcement. I kind of had the feeling that we were not going to finish that week," Rahm told SI.com in his first U.S. interview since the cancelation.
The talk on Thursday, on and off the course, had centered around the coronavirus outbreak. Following the suspension of play by the NBA, NHL, MLB and others, the PGA Tour was one of the last major sports still playing and golfers were feeling uncomfortable.
“Rory McIlroy and I had been talking to the Tour asking them to buy a whole bunch of tests so they could test every single player," Rahm said. “But it was determined that we couldn’t just do that. If there was no way to test anybody, there was no way we could keep playing. I think it was the right call and especially seeing how things are evolving in Europe.”
Europe had quickly turned into the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the majority of Rahm’s family in Spain, a solid night’s sleep was impossible.
By early morning Rahm had booked a flight home to Scottsdale and offered a ride to fellow Arizona Tour players Tony Finau and Wyndham Clark. All three ready to begin an unexpected break in their schedule with the hope of resuming play at golf’s first major of the year.
By 10 a.m. Friday the Masters had been postponed.
“I think in the back of our minds we thought ‘if there’s one place that could pull this off and find a way it would be the Masters’," Rahm said. “But I didn’t see any reason why we should do it. It was too much risk and didn’t make much sense. At the end of the day with everything going on, whether we play sports or the Masters, it’s not the biggest concern.”
As Rahm settles into golf’s unanticipated offseason, the 25-year old’s concern is focused on his home country of Spain.
The bulk of Rahm’s family lives in the town of Bilbao, a port city on the north coast of Spain where he grew up. As of Tuesday, Spain was under lockdown with families quarantined to help halt the spread of COVID-19. The majority of Rahm’s family is in fine health. His mother Angela Rodriguez works as a midwife and has been allowed to leave her home to go to work since her clinic is attached to the local hospital.
“Everybody's there. I actually spoke with them this morning. I went to the grocery store, and I gave them a call since I knew they had nothing else to do," Rahm said.
“Basically, everyone is in quarantine. My family is in great spirits. My grandma is the most spirited, most energetic 85-year-old you’ll ever meet. She’s trying to look on the bright side of everything so it’s always refreshing to talk with her, but it’s hard. She saw a family get taken home by the cops because they were out walking.”
The situation in Bilbao has left Rahm confident his family is safe, but his tone becomes much more subdued when talking about Spain’s capital city of Madrid.
As of Tuesday, nearly half of the country’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 were in Madrid. It’s also where Rahm’s great aunt resides in a nursing home. “My great aunt has ALS and is in a nursing home where there’s been a confirmed case,” Rahm said. “She’s lost control of much of her body and there’s a confirmed case in her home and she can’t even close her mouth. That is giving us the biggest scare right now.”
At home more than 8,000 miles away in Scottsdale, Rahm and his wife Kelley are doing their part to help curb the virus. The two are looking into setting up a home gym in order to avoid contact with groups of people.
As for golf, Rahm says he shouldn’t have any problem playing.
“I have my own golf cart, so as long as I’m the only one that is touching the cart, I should be OK," Rahm said.
“I’ll try to just stay at home, work out and wait and see. I might be erring on the side of extreme caution, but who knows? That’s where my mind is at right now. Whether I play golf or not right now is not on my radar.”