We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you an actual story about a real sporting event that happened last week.
Yes, we are dealing with the real thing, finally, during this time of sports inactivity. Golf has returned for several weeks with no fans in attendance.
But the most prominent event of all was Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in his former backyard in Dublin, Ohio with the great one on hand to greet the champion coming off the 18th green on Sunday.
It was kind of a quirky tournament with bizarre weather conditions on top of a most challenging course, replete with what appeared to be a total runaway, only to see things tighten, and a couple of startling moments by an incredibly talented golfer who not only won the whole shebang but took over as the new world’s number one player.
The man in the spotlight? Jon Rahm, a 25-year old Spaniard out of Arizona State whose temperament is a far cry from the giant who holds the four-day affair each year.
Let’s rewind back to Saturday’s third round when Rahm turned a four-shot deficit into a four-shot lead.
Following a pair of birdies on 10 and 11, Tony Finau appeared in command with a four-shot lead.
But Finau double-bogeyed the par 3 13th and the hunt was on.
It was on the 13th tee that Rahm, normally a tempestuous fellow, instead, exhibited a calm that the great ones always show under pressure.
As Finau faltered the rest of the way, Rahm birdied four straight holes, 13-16, and established a four shot lead going into Sunday’s final round.
Gusting winds and thunderstorms marked the final round, including a 50-minute weather delay, added to a difficult layout worthy of a major, made this year’s Memorial a matter of survivor of the fittest.
But the 6-2, 220-pounder, who had won three previous PGA tournaments upped his game.
At the turn, Rahm had opened up a seemingly insurmountable 8-shot advantage. For the rest of the day, the winds would blow and the rains would come, but for the leader, it would be a walk in the park.
But, in golf, as we all know, things change, and change fast. John Rahm bogeyed the 10th hole, and his lead was now 7 over his playing partner and good friend Ryan Palmer.
So what? We’re all human.
Then, on the 11th, Rahm pulled his tee shot into the water leading to a double-bogey. His caddie, Adam Hayes had suggested a more conservative shot, especially with a big lead in the back nine.
But Hayes was overruled and after the errant shot, Rahm reverted to form and slammed his driver into the ground before slamming it into his bag. Hard to believe the leader would show his anger, instead of keeping his cool, again, with a commanding lead in the final round.
But now the lead, once 8 shots, was halved to four, with seven holes to play.
When Palmer birdied the par 3 12th, another stroke was shaved off.
Rahm’s lead was down to three.
Now the question was, could he hold on, particularly in light of his mini-tantrum on 11?
What followed was the shot of the day, and with it, controversy.
On the 16th, still holding a three-shot lead, Rahm chipped in a birdie, to raise his lead to four, and for all intents and purposes seal the victory.
But the TV cameras, showed, in slow motion that when Rahm tapped down behind the ball prior to the shot, the ball moved slightly, which would indicate a two-shot penalty.
It was then revealed that the new rules in golf eliminate using slow-motion to decide whether a penalty has been committed. So the same shot in regular time followed. That too, showed the ball move.
It was to be reviewed, and Rahm was not told of the possible penalty.
Ultimately the winning margin was five shots. He accepted congratulations from Nicklaus coming off the final green, and was interviewed by CBS on his way to the scoring cabin.
It was there that he was informed of the possibility he might be penalized two strokes for his action prior to what he termed the greatest shot of his career, and expressed shock.
The penalty, which was later assessed, had no effect on Rahm’s triumph, but it did open a barrage of opinions on whether he should have been disqualified, or even whether he should have been informed of the issue at the time.
The Golden Bear and The Champion
Who knows having knowledge of the possibility of a two-shot penalty how it would have affected his mental state the rest of the way. Especially, considering Rahm’s temperament to begin with.
So, despite, the final round drama, John Rahm finally reached number 1 in the world.
What does it mean? Plenty.
Rahm joins the legendary Seve Ballesteros as the only Spaniards ever to reach that pedestal as number 1 in the world.
Ballesteros, was a dominant golfer from the mid-1970’s, to the mid-1990’s. He helped the European Ryder Cup team to five wins both as a player and captain. He was one of the most popular players ever.
Ballesteros died of brain cancer in 2011, at the age of 54.
Now, John Rahm, who has promised to control his temper, but not lose his fire, carries the banner for Spain.
He is more than capable of doing just that.
Oh yes, Tiger Woods. At the Memorial, Tiger was a mere footnote.
He barely made the cut by the skin of his teeth. He finished with a 4-over 76 in the final round, finished 6-over and wound up tied for 40th.
He talked of how aging has affected his game. he is 44 now. He’s been through the mill physically undergoing surgery several times.
Once upon a time there was the real possibility that Tiger Woods would surpass Jack Nicklaus for the most majors won. Nicklaus, who is now 80, and admitted both he and his wife Barbara contracted Covid-19 in March, captured 18.
Tiger, who’s had a magnificent career, has won 15.
Realistically, what are his chances now?
So, there you have it. How refreshing to finally return to my sportswriting days, and actually report on a legitimate event during these strange times.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.