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2021 U.S. Open: How Much Did Luck Factor Into Sunday's Outcome?

Jon Rahm was a deserving champion at the 2021 U.S. Open. But between the unpredictable greens, tricky rough and other assorted moments, this week was more than just an examination of skill.

SAN DIEGO -- It would be disingenuous to say that 121st U.S. Open was won or lost due to luck.

There is no question Jon Rahm clearly won and the other 155 players undoubtedly did not. But how much luck came into play over the four days at Torrey Pines' South Course?

We never see every shot, either on television or in person, so it’s impossible to document each bad lie, or a ball that buries in a bunker or finds a divot hole in the middle of a fairway. And then we could discuss the greens and the pesky poa annua, where a bump here or there can knock a ball offline, or improbably send it online, no matter how well the putt was struck.

Skill ends when the ball is in the air or leaves the putter head. That’s when luck enters the arena and can affect the outcome.

The results in all pro golf tournaments include a combination of skill and luck. And sometimes luck might be a bigger factor than a 156-player field would admit. Major championships seem to have a little more luck involved than normal tour events. The “L word” tends to be discussed more by players during these major weeks. 

By definition, luck is a success or failure apparently brought on by chance, rather than through one’s own actions.

“Nobody understands, at least if you play professional golf, major championship golf, a lot of it is luck,” said Bryson DeChambeau after a final round where he went from leading to finishing T26 after a 6-over 77. “I can't tell you how many times I hit shots this week into bad lies and good lies, and they played out 50-50 this week. I caught the bad lies in the back nine today. But I knew going into the week that was going to be my game plan. Had to be a little lucky, and I was for the first three and a half days, and just didn't get lucky on the last nine.

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“But it plays a huge factor in major championship golf. It's probably over 50 percent in most scenarios.”

Bryson DeChambeau, Final Round, 2021 U.S. Open

Bryson DeChambeau shot a back-nine 44 on Sunday to plummet out of the lead at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy was also in contention in the final round, but as with others on Sunday afternoon, luck played a role in the one-time top-ranked player’s finish.

“With the three-putt on 11, that sort of stopped the momentum, and then I got a little unlucky on 12 and made double from there,” McIlroy said after shooting a 2-over 73 to finish tied for seventh. “Take those two holes out, the rest of the week was really good.”

Jon Rahm never mentioned the word luck in his victorious post-round press conference, but he described it in many ways with phrases like, “When I missed my putt on 14, I told Adam (Hayes, Rahm’s caddie), it was a good putt.” And then he mentioned those poa annua greens.

“I believed that something good was coming my way is what helped,” Rahm said. “I never lost hope for a second. I kept hitting good shots. I kept giving myself chances, and even when I had that lip-out on 15 where you can get a little bit desperate, I just kept hitting good shots. I almost made birdie on 16 and two ended up dropping at the end.”

Was it hope or luck? Are they the same? We’ll never really know, but anyone that played this week will say that Rahm won because he played the best, which he did, despite how much good luck he received or bad luck others experienced.