The 121st U.S. Open will go down as the first major win for Jon Rahm, one of the world’s great players—and one of golf’s easier players to root for. The 26-year-old Spaniard started the final round in a tie for sixth place at two strokes under par for the championship. He posted a field-best four under on Sunday and ended with a cumulative minus six to edge out everyone else, most notably Louis Oosthuizen at five under.
The winning shot turned out to be an icy putt on the 18th hole, which Rahm made a few minutes before Oosthuizen (playing in the day’s final group) finished his round:
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 20, 2021
This tournament wasn’t quite as historic as the U.S. Open’s last visit to Torrey Pines in 2008, but it didn’t need to be. In its own way, the 2021 U.S. Open was one of the best in a long time. Here’s a closer look at Rahm’s victory.
Rahm was due for a major tournament win.
Going into the tournament, Rahm was the No. 3 player in the Official World Golf Ranking (behind Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas), and he was the best player in the world to have yet to win a major.
It was just a matter of time. Rahm had already won five PGA Tour events, including two (the 2020 Memorial and PGA Championship) that attracted talented fields similar to a major event. He’d been in serious contention in previous iterations of the PGA Championship and The Masters. With a powerful driving game off the tee and a tactful short game around the greens, Rahm is a well-rounded player and had everything he needed to win a major.
He put it all together on Sunday. He played the round of his life on a challenging South Course at Torrey Pines—but it likely won’t be his last major win.
Rahm has had a wild few weeks.
On Saturday, June 5, Rahm was the leader at the Memorial, the tournament run by all-time great Jack Nicklaus at his Muirfield course in Ohio. Rahm had just wrapped up his third round with a six-stroke lead and was cruising to win the tournament. Then, a PGA Tour official told Rahm he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw. He missed out on a $1.67 million prize that would’ve been his as long as he avoided a Sunday meltdown. Rahm had not received his first vaccine dose until the week of the tournament, although the shot had been available to him for at least several weeks beforehand.
Surreal TV moment as six-stroke leader Jon Rahm learns he tested positive for COVID and Jim Nantz tries to make sense of it without knowing what Rahm's been told pic.twitter.com/WvD6LmAlxs
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) June 5, 2021
Afterward, Rahm was introspective. In his press conference before the U.S. Open, he talked about how he wished he’d gotten vaccinated earlier, and how grateful he was that his wife and infant child had not become sick. Fortunately, Rahm didn’t suffer serious symptoms, and he took his positive test as a chance to reevaluate his decisions. Then he went out and won the U.S. Open.
On Sunday, the tournament’s biggest guns took over.
The U.S. Open was expected to favor a small handful of the best players (and longest hitters) in the world. The United States Golf Association’s habit of setting up long, difficult courses, combined with the deep field of excellent players, seemed to rule out any upsets. But the first few days of the tournament were surprising. 48-year-old Englishman Richard Bland, who had no track record of major contention, led after two rounds to become the oldest person to ever lead a major after 36 holes. When Bland faded in Saturday’s third round, Russell Henley, the No. 63 player in the world, became the new leader.
But the Sunday leaderboard gradually tightened, and the players in contention by the end were proven commodities with elite track records. Oosthuizen is a former major champ (at the 2010 Open Championship) who has had strong showings at the sport’s biggest events—he has finished as a runner-up in each of the four majors. (This year will be yet another painful near-miss for the South African star.)
Brooks Koepka, the four-time major winner who struggled on Saturday but contends in more or less every major, even made a Sunday charge to put himself in contention. Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, and Collin Morikawa—all top-11 players—were each near the top of the leaderboard. And so, of course, was Rahm, a big hitter who entered the tournament ranked 21st in driving distance.
Part of the U.S. Open’s charm is that it’s truly an “open” tournament. Anyone can theoretically qualify for the 156-player field by working their way through a long maze of qualifying tournaments. And Henley, Bland, and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes each made nice runs. But in the end, the national championship came down to a handful of the best players in golf, playing at the top of their games with everything on the line. It’s hard for golf to get better than that, but Rahm’s redemption after the Memorial fiasco made this tournament even more special.