Rahm was notified of his bad luck after completing his third round
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Sympathy for Jon Rahm turned into bafflement and, in some quarters, anger at the PGA Tour’s handling of the Spaniard’s coronavirus withdrawal when he was six shots clear at the Memorial tournament on Saturday.
Even the eventual winner, Patrick Cantlay, recognised the emptiness of the occasion. “Such a weird situation and so unfortunate, because, me included, everyone knows it would’ve been a totally different day today had that not happened,” Cantlay said, after beating fellow American Collin Morikawa in a play-off, after they both finished on 13-under.
The video of Rahm being told he had tested positive immediately after his brilliant third round 64 at Muirfield Village in Ohio is sure to be one of the enduing memories of the golfing year. The world No 3 sank to his knees on live TV, with the commentary team and fans unaware the 26-year-old had been told of the obligation to pull out.
The facts later emerged and then three questions became prominent. Why, as he is asymptomatic, was Rahm not allowed to play as a single in the final round? Why did the officials need to inform him so publicly? And why had Rahm not been vaccinated at least a few weeks before, as that would have meant he would not have required testing before the penultimate round?
Jimmy Walker, the 2016 US PGA champion, was first to call out the regulations which effectively disqualified Rahm. “[Jon] should play Sunday. By himself if need be. Period,” Walker posted on social media. “I can’t get behind this decision.”
In fairness to the Tour, they were merely following federal regulations in a Covid-19 programme that was crucial to the US circuit being one of the first professional sports to resume last year. Rahm was informed before the event began that he had been in close contact with a person who tested positive and could either pull out or agree to special rules that included regular testing and not mixing in the clubhouse or locker room.
Rahm, the defending champion, chose to play on. He tested negative for the first two rounds and took another test before his third round, and was on the course when the “positive” verdict was delivered. To ensure it was not a “false positive”, his sample was tested again.
5 birdies in his last 6 [email protected] is pouring them in @MemorialGolf.
He leads by SIX. pic.twitter.com/rDTjO9BwMS
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 5, 2021
The confirmation came moments before he completed his round. Rahm had shaken hands with playing partners Patrick Cantlay and Scott Scheffler and just walked off the 18th green to huge applause when the officials approached and told him the bad news. Rahm broke down and was understandably emotional when he was driven off in a buggy wearing a mask.
“I was walking off the 18th and Jon said to me ‘good luck tomorrow’, and, I’m like, ‘thanks, man – you play good too’," Scheffler said. "Jon replied, ‘no, I just tested positive’. My heart just sank. It’s terrible that that’s happened. I think it’s terrible they told him in front of the cameras.”
Sir Nick Faldo, England’s six-time major-winner, was in the CBS booth as lead analyst and was left as uncertain as everyone else. At first, they feared it was tragic news. Faldo was evidently furious. “Why we [at] CBS didn’t get a heads up, or why wasn’t he told to put a mask on and come inside, as we’ve got something to tell you?” Faldo tweeted. “It would’ve been a completely different reaction/situation.”
The Tour’s reasoning was they wanted to ensure Rahm had as little contact with others as was possible. But it was odd they allowed him to shake hands. The Tour later revealed that their protocols would not have required Rahm to be tested every day if he had been vaccinated more than two weeks before.
It was reported that he had been vaccinated after he was told he had been in close contact with someone who was positive. Rahm had the opportunity to have the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least three weeks ago.
Rahm now has to be in quarantine for 10 days, which means he will able to play in the US Open, having been deemed clear on the Tuesday of the major at Torrey Pines. Rahm, who won his first title at an event at the San Diego course in 2017, was set to be one of the favourites, but clearly his preparation will have been restricted.
To his immense credit, Rahm released the following statement: “This is one of those things that happens in life, one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people,” he said. “I look forward to watching the showdown tomorrow with you all.”