LA JOLLA, Calif. – It would be easy to root for Jon Rahm. As the 26-year-old Spaniard stood in front of the media Tuesday at the U.S. Open, Rahm was a sympathetic figure. He easily bared his soul about the experience of playing arguably the best round of his life in the third round of the Memorial Tournament and learning shortly after his final putt dropped that he was being withdrawn from the tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test.
While the $1.67 million winner's share is important, as is the 550 FedEx Cup and world ranking points, Rahm said none of those things crossed his mind on that Saturday afternoon.
“Well, priority number one amongst all that happened was, obviously, letting the people I had been in contact with the two previous weeks, letting them know, making sure they were all okay,” Rahm said. "And then trying to get out of. (Columbus, Ohio) and go home and at least be in a familiar place. Hoping I was going to ... just getting ready for the worst.”
Rahm didn't develop any COVID symptoms, but his time in quarantine kept him away from his infant son Kepa, who was born just before this year’s Masters. Due to travel restrictions, Rahm’s parents have remained in Spain and when they finally arrived in Scottsdale, Ariz., on the Monday after the Memorial, Rahm was not able to spend any time with his father, who was not fully vaccinated and he had limited time with his fully-vaccinated mother.
But the moment he missed most was when his son met his grandparents for the first time.
“Whatever happens on the golf course was absolutely secondary in my mind,” Rahm said. “For anybody wondering what was going through my mind, all that was going on because my parents landed Monday, Tuesday they met my son, and I wasn't there. That was truly, truly a hard thing.”
It has been fewer than two weeks since Rahm was unable to take a six-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the Memorial and the last time he was seen by the public, he was being driven away in a golf cart. Rahm was in the PGA Tour's contact tracing protocol since the Monday of Memorial week because he had been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19. Rahm would not identify the person.
Rahm said Tuesday that he had been vaccinated but the required 14 days hadn't passed, so he was tested daily at the Memorial. His test on Saturday morning came back positive and a second test was ordered using the same sample. That, too, came back positive just as Rahm was completing his third round.
Many observers, including some players, were disturbed that the Tour medical staff chose to notify Rahm at greenside after his round.
“It could have been handled a little bit better, yeah, but it still doesn't change the fact of what really happened,” Rahm said “Because it was the second time, I got put on the spot on the same course, (which is) why I was a little bit more hurt.”
Ironically, Rahm was informed beside the 18th green about a penalty stroke in the final round of the 2020 Memorial, which didn't change the outcome of his victory.
Rahm hired a medical jet to take him back to in Scottsdale so he could quarantine at home. A doctor visited him daily for home testing.
We in the media are supposed to be dispassionate and cover the sport in an even-handed way. It’s a long way from Sunday, but I believe it would be fair and proper to wish Rahm good luck and if he ends up in the hunt in the final nine holes, then to pull for him to win his first major.
He received a great deal of criticism after the Memorial withdrawal, much of which was unwarranted. “If we want to go back to having a normal life and normal Tour events and try to go back to normality as early as possible, people should get vaccinated,” Rahm said. ”I know if you're younger, you run less of a risk of having big problems from COVID, but truthfully we don't know the long-term effects of this virus, so I would encourage people to actually get it done.”