Some things are just meant to be.
Jon Rahm won the 121st U.S. Open Golf Championship on Sunday at Torrey Pines by simply keeping his head while all about him, other contenders were losing theirs.
This Open had a little bit of everything. Almost halfway through the final round, five players were tied for the lead, with another five one shot back. They included the defending champion, past champions, and several who had never even sniffed a major championship title. There was even a guy who’s made a name for himself by finishing second in majors.
Anything could happen. And did.
As is often the case on Open Sunday, most of the leaders spent the day advancing to the rear. First was Russell Henley, the former UGA player who held a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds.
Henley played with fire on Saturday, spending almost as much time on sand as grass. It caught up with him Sunday, with bogeys on 6, 7, and 8 taking him out of contention. A closing bogey cost him a top-10 finish. He wasn’t even Low Dawg. That honor went to Harris English, who finished third after a closing 68, but was never really in contention.
Rory McElroy, winner of four majors but none since 2014, fell off the pace with a bogey at 11 and an atrocious double-bogey at 12. He drove into a bunker, hit into a greenside bunker, skulled that shot into the long grass on the side of the bunker’s crater, and misread a putt.
Two-time Open champ Brooks Koepka shot himself into contention with a 32 on the front side, but three back-nine bogeys left him at 2-under.
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau grabbed the lead after coming within an inch of an ace on the eighth hole. DeChambeau proceeded to bogey 11 and 12, and then double-bogeyed 13. His third shot from the greenside bunker flew the green and came to rest beside a case of beer.
He should have given in to the temptation. He shot 44 on the back nine, 77 for the round, and slid all the way into a tie for 26th.
Mackenzie Hughes, a co-leader after three rounds, hung around until his approach to the 11th green came to rest in a tree. Three more bogeys followed that double, and his 77 left him tied for 15th place.
The last to fall was Louis Oosthuizen, the third co-leader as play began. He drove left into the chasm adjoining the 17th fairway, and that bogey offset a closing birdie, leaving him one shot behind Rahm, but with his sixth second-place finish in a major. “I’m second again,” said Oosthuizen at his press conference after the round. “No, look, it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing”
That left Rahm, who began his final round three strokes off the lead. He promptly birdied the first two holes. A birdie on the ninth hole offset a bogey on the fourth. He then reeled off seven straight pars to begin the back nine, exactly what you need to do to win the Open.
On 17, he holed a 24-foot, downhill putt with about a 6-foot, left-to-right break for a birdie that tied him for the lead at 5-under. On 18, he left himself an 18-foot putt with another left-to-right break for birdie.
“I knew at the end it snaps hard right,” Rahm said at his post-Open press conference. “It doesn’t look like it, but it does.
“So, I was aware of that. I trusted my read, and as soon as I made contact, I looked up and saw where the ball was going. It was exactly the speed and line I visualized, and I told myself, ’That’s in!’ If you could see my thoughts with 10 feet to go, in my mind, I’m like, ‘That’s in the hole!’ and it went in.”
Those were the two most amazing birdie putts to clinch a major that I’ve ever witnessed.
It helps when you’re playing a course you know well, where you’re most comfortable. Rahm won his first PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines in 2017. He proposed to his wife, Kelley, nearby. And, of course, this was his first tournament since withdrawing from the Memorial on June 5 with a six-shot lead after three rounds, due to a positive COVID-19 test.
“I believed from the biggest setbacks we can get the biggest breakthroughs, and that’s why I kept telling Kelley, when she was devastated about what happened, something good is going to come,” he said.
I don’t know what, but something good is going to come. I felt it out there on the golf course.”
In fact, Rahm let his good vibes overcome the pressure of the moment. “It felt like such a fairytale story that I knew it was going to have a happy ending. I could just tell, just going down the fairway, after that first tee shot, the second shot, and that birdie.
“I knew there was something special in the air. I could just feel it. I just knew it.