At that time, Rahm held a six-shot lead after three rounds and was the Ohio event’s defending champion, so he had to like his chances of earning another title and the nearly $1.7 million winner’s purse. Instead, he got the bad news in front of a packed gallery as he walked off the 18th green, leading to a memorably crestfallen reaction.
It was widely assumed that Rahm was stunned by the positive test, but as he explained it Tuesday, he “knew that could happen” because he was in a contact-tracing protocol. His expressions of disbelief stemmed from the fact that he had also gotten some unpleasant news at the 18th green of the Memorial last year, except in that case, officials told him after his final round that he was being docked two strokes for a ball that moved before he swung at it on the 16th hole. That penalty did not prevent him from winning and becoming just the second Spanish man to attain the world’s No. 1 ranking.
In other words, what happened this year was worse, but not mostly for the fallout in Rahm’s professional life. He said at Torrey Pines that he paid a far higher price for his positive test once he went back home to Arizona and started a period of self-isolation.
“I was a little bit scared because even though I was feeling fine, I didn’t want to give the virus to anybody in my house,” said Rahm, 26. “I didn’t want to possibly give it to our young son [born in April]. I think the hardest part out of all this was, for just over 10 days, not being able to even spend any time with my little one.
“Adding to that, my parents came into town, couldn’t be around them. … I wasn’t there when my parents met my son, and I hadn’t seen my parents in over a year, almost a year and a half.
“Those are the hard parts about this virus in life,” he continued. “Whatever happens on the golf course was absolutely secondary in my mind. For anybody wondering what was going through my mind, all that was going on, because my parents landed Monday [from Spain], Tuesday they met my son, and I wasn’t there. That was truly a hard thing.”
It was something Rahm might well have avoided if he had been fully vaccinated. He said Tuesday that he had actually received his final dose before the Memorial, but was still within the subsequent two-week period required for the vaccine to take full effect.
“Looking back on it, yeah, I guess I wish I would have done it earlier, but thinking on scheduling purposes and having the PGA [Championship] and defending the Memorial, to be honest, it wasn’t on my mind,” Rahm told reporters about getting vaccinated. “I’m not going to lie, I was trying to just get ready for a golf tournament. If I had done it a few days earlier, probably we wouldn’t be having these conversations right now. But it is what it is. We move on.''
Rahm’s forced withdrawal from the Memorial elicited criticism of the PGA Tour, both for how officials handled the way they notified him of his positive test, and for their rigidity in not giving him a chance to complete his title quest by possibly playing the final round without a partner.
However, Rahm defended Tour officials as having done “what they had to do.” He added that there is a “a reason” for abiding by the pandemic-related mandates of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The rules are there, and it’s clear,” said Rahm, who was able to leave his home late last week after twice testing negative. “I’m not going to lie, I was fully aware when I was in tracing protocol that that was a possibility. … I was hoping it wouldn’t. I was playing like it was not going to, but I support what the PGA Tour did.”
During the Memorial, a PGA Tour spokesman claimed that “north of 50 percent” of its players had been vaccinated. Asked Tuesday what he would say to those who have not gotten their doses, Rahm replied, “We live in a free country, so do as you please. I can tell you from experience that if something happens, you’re going have to live with the consequences, golf-wise.
“Now, the country is going at a great pace of getting vaccinated, and if we want to go back to having a normal life, normal Tour events as early as possible, people should get vaccinated,” he continued. “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.”
As for what he expects from himself this week, given how well he was playing before having to isolate at home, Rahm said, “When you don’t hit a golf shot for just about a week, it’s tough leading into a major, especially a U.S. Open.”
He went on, though, to declare that he felt good about his chances of quickly regaining his form, if only because he still had “the memory of all those great golf shots I played.”
“I’ve been playing really good golf all year,” said Rahm, who has 10 top-10 finishes this season, including at the Masters and the PGA Championship. “Two weeks ago, it’s finally clicking all together like I was waiting for it to happen. Finally everything was firing on all cylinders.
“Not that I’m expecting to play that perfect again, but I know that I can play at a really high level. So I’m confident.”