Alexander: Karma was good to Jon Rahm

  • Jon Rahm pumps his fist after making his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Jon Rahm reacts to making his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Jon Rahm, of Spain, kisses the champions trophy for photographers after the final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Sunday, June 20, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)



The golf gods owed Jon Rahm. Sunday at Torrey Pines was the payoff.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, Rahm had a 6-shot lead after 54 holes of The Memorial, but was pulled aside as he came off the course and told he’d tested positive for COVID-19 and, obviously, would have to withdraw. For what it’s worth, the winner’s share of that event was $1.674 million.

The winner’s purse at the U.S. Open is $2.25 million. Rahm will happily accept that direct deposit after a Sunday in his favorite city, on his favorite golf course, when he was the last of the contenders standing and punctuated his round with an 18-foot birdie putt that broke right and went in the hole, followed by a fist pump and dance that should live on in highlights for years.

That birdie put him at 6-under, a shot ahead of South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen. The lead stood up when Oosthuizen, bidding for his first major victory since the 2010 British Open, pulled his tee shot on 17 out of bounds, had to take a penalty drop and bogeyed to fall 2 shots back. Oosthuizen birdied 18, but he needed an eagle to tie.

Torrey Pines is where Rahm, a Spaniard who played at Arizona State, accomplished his first PGA Tour victory in 2017 at the Farmers Insurance Open, sinking a 60-foot eagle putt and rocketing up the Official World Golf Rankings. He proposed to his wife Kelley at Torrey Pines State Reserve, just north of the courses. They were married in Spain, but they did a do-over ceremony in San Diego.

He described it as their happy place, saying, “Just as soon as we land in San Diego, it’s like, ‘All right, we’re in our spot.’ ” And it’s where he was able to enjoy his first Father’s Day as a dad, cuddling his 10-week-old son Kepa as he walked from the 18th green to the scorer’s trailer while waiting to see if his lead would hold up.

Three generations of Rahms, including Jon’s mother and father, were on hand for this history, Jon’s first in a major and the first U.S. Open victory by a Spaniard. In an interview with NBC he dedicated the victory to the late Seve Ballesteros, who won the British Open three times and the Masters twice but whose best U.S. Open finish was third, in 1987 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

At one point Sunday Bryson DeChambeau and Oosthuizen shared the lead at 5-under with Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Mackenzie Hughes all one shot back. One by one, each fell back. Defending champion DeChambeau’s flameout was the most vivid, topped by what most of us know – some of us quite familiarly – as a “snowman” on the scorecard, a quadruple-bogey 8 on 17 that pushed him to a 77 and a tie for 26th.

“I was trying not to look at the leaderboards,” Rahm said, “but the crowd wasn’t cooperating. They were telling me exactly what was going on. So I decided to embrace it. You see all those great names, and to myself I thought whoever wins this one is going to be the one who won a U.S. Open with a star-packed leaderboard.”

Rahm said he believes in karma, and maybe this resounding triumph following a moment of adversity was meant to be. He talked of hearing from Padraig Harrington and Nick Faldo after finding out about the COVID diagnosis.

Harrington “told me a story in which he was leading by five after 54 holes, signed the wrong scorecard, and got disqualified,” Rahm said. “He said he got a lot more from that instance, he learned a lot more than he would ever learn from the win. Nick Faldo texted me the next morning and told me a story of how he was winning a tournament. He was leading by six with six holes to go and got disqualified, as well, and how he learned from that and got a win the week after.

“I believe from the biggest setbacks we can get some of the biggest breakthroughs, and that’s why I stay so positive. That’s why I kept telling Kelley, when she was devastated about what happened (as well as) my family and everybody around me, ‘Something good is going to come. I don’t know what, but something good is going to come.’ And I felt it today out there on the golf course.”

Maybe that’s why he agreed with a questioner that this was the least amount of pressure he’d felt at a major.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “Just because it felt like such a fairy tale 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, that second shot, and that birdie (on the first hole), I knew there was something special in the air. I could just feel it. I just knew it.

“I couldn’t have told you in the moment I felt something special. That’s why I played as aggressive as I did because it was like, ‘Man, this is my day; everything’s going to go right.’ I felt like that helped me become. I just knew that I could do it and believed it.”

Rahm was 4-under on the front nine, and he proceeded to play par golf while everyone else fell back. He was wide right on a birdie putt on 14, had a birdie try lip out on 15 and slid another just to the left on 16, But he sank a 24-footer for birdie on 17 to tie Oosthuizen at 5-under. On the par-5 18th he hit a sand shot to within 18 feet of the pin – located exactly in the same spot, the front right corner of the green, as it was in 2008 when Tiger Woods made his memorable putt (followed by his highlight-reel fist pump and primal scream) to tie Rocco Mediate and force a Monday playoff.

Rahm said he told caddie Adam Hayes after the miss on 14, “Two 4s and two 3s on the last four holes wins the tournament.”

Darned if he didn’t call it.

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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