Tour Confidential: Does Jon Rahm have world No. 1 staying power?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Jon Rahm victory at the Memorial, Tiger Woods’ return, Bryson DeChambeau’s blowup and more..
1. Jon Rahm blew away the field at the Memorial, winning by three shots (five shots before he was assessed a two-stroke penalty after his round). The victory, his fourth on the PGA Tour, paired with sixth internationally, elevated the 25-year-old Spaniard to No. 1 in the world. Does Rahm have the staying power to hold down the top spot for an extended run?
Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): Undoubtedly! Look at that penultimate sentence: “25-year-old Spaniard to No. 1 in the world.” Aka, he’s been elite from Day 1 and he’ll play all over the world, beating up on both tours. Even if he holds it only for a little this first time, I’d expect him to have a 20-week run at some point in his career.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Nice use of “penultimate,” Sean. No doubt he’s got the skills. Gotta figure his staying power up top will have a lot to do with how well he balances that knife’s edge between intensity and hot-headedness. There were a couple of moments on the back nine Sunday when he lost his cool. But he righted himself. Maybe working with that sports shrink we heard about during the broadcast is paying off.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I’d be surprised. I don’t think golf is that important to him. Also, when a swing is that short and fast there’s a lot that can go wrong. A longer, slower swing is actually easier to correct and have long-term consistency with.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): What’s funny about Rahm is that his golf game is generally so relentless; he’s somewhat like Justin Thomas in that sense – he just keeps coming at you. The mental game is the last piece to click, and that has to do with letting off some steam without blowing a gasket. On a hard golf course, or an easy golf course, he’s a good bet. I think he holds his spot and plays well at the PGA, too, to pick up some big points.
2. Tiger Woods made his return to the PGA Tour, playing his first tournament since mid-February due to ailment and the Tour’s three-month coronavirus hiatus. (Woods barely made the cut and shot 71-76-71-76 to tie for 40th.) What, if anything, can we read into Tiger’s shaky performance?
Zak: That he’s kinda sorta where he left off: Back tightness comes and goes. The right swing on the right day, and he can make a number of birdies, but any looseness off the tee is going to make it a grind for him. Also, the rough isn’t his friend, so good luck at Harding Park and Winged Foot.
Sens: Agreed. Luckily, another thing that hasn’t changed is his ability to grind. Conditions were brutal, his back was bugging him, and he still closed Friday with just enough to make the weekend.
Bamberger: Tiger Woods is the kindest, greatest and most determined golf champion I have had the privilege to watch in this millennium. His play was outstanding. He is a golf god. Except for a few balky shots and a sometimes balky body.
Dethier: Hah, big “except” there, Michael! I think it was a good showing, definitely not a great showing, and Woods displayed both his otherworldly shotmaking and the power of Father Time. I think he’s got Augusta National circled on the calendar, as he should.
3. Bryson DeChambeau blew up during Friday’s second round, taking penalties on three consecutive shots and arguing with two rules officials over one of the penalties before taking a 10 on the par-5 15th at Muirfield Village and missing the cut. DeChambeau’s physicality has been the talk of the Tour over the past month. Does his sometimes fiery demeanor give you any pause about how he might perform in big moments?
Zak: His demeanor is concerning, to the point that I could definitely see him unravel in crunch time, but I’m not going to get too wrapped up in one bad round during one abnormal event. His personality doesn’t lend to listening to others tell him what’s right, like the rules officials did, so it’s not too surprising. But remember, when the cameraman bothered him in Detroit, he turned around and blitzed the field on Sunday.
Sens: For sure, but that’s part of what makes him good theater. For better and worse, he’s been the most compelling player to watch in golf’s return. That he’s emerging as something of a villain in some eyes is all that better. Every good drama needs one.
Bamberger: Bryson has more energy and brilliance than he knows what to do with! A man with such skills must be given some room to roam, and roam he did!
Dethier: In the heat of the moment, getting a ruling that effectively torpedos your chances at being a part of a massive tournament would be a lot to deal with. In that way, I think we should cut Bryson some slack. But he should also bear in mind that rules officials are just doing their jobs — nobody is out to get him. It felt relatable and immature, and maybe those two things are the same.
4. Speaking of Bryson, the debate over distance continued this week. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers told Sportsmail “the relationship between the club and the ball” is important and said that the Distance Insights Report that the R&A and the USGA released in February would eventually continue. During this week’s Memorial, Jack Nicklaus took it a step further, saying the USGA and R&A “can’t keep burying their heads” on distance and said the ball should be adjusted. What impact, if any, do you suppose Bryson’s distance gains are having on the governing bodies’ distance policies? Do you sense any renewed sense of urgency?
Zak: There is definitely some urgency, especially when Jack opens up about it on national television. [Kudos to Nick Faldo for getting Jack to talk on it, too.] And when the R&A CEO opens up, too. We’re not far from Seth Waugh and Kerry Haigh getting asked similar questions at the PGA Championship, and then the USGA and Augusta National get their say. Will there be a conclusion during a world pandemic? No. But seeds are being sown.
Sens: That “relationship between the club and the ball” has been an abusive one for some time, with the ball getting hit way too far, too fast. Bryson Chambulk is definitely one of the sparks in that conversation. But like Sean, I don’t see anything happening soon, unless the pooh-bahs at Augusta decide to do something about it. It would be in their interest. At some point, they’re going to run out of land to keep buying to extend the course.
Bamberger: No. I sense a renewed sense of rhetoric. The distance thing is out of control. That means it cannot be controlled. The war is over. Big won. Big will be back, under names as yet unknown to us.
Dethier: But hey, at least we have the rough! Sunday was a reminder that course setup can still have a massive effect on the pro game and that firm, tough conditions make for fantastic theater.
5. Brooks Koepka, who shot 80 on Sunday at the Memorial to tie for 62nd, said after his third round that “nothing is improved” on his surgically repaired knee. (Koepka’s outing at Muirfield Village follows other less-than-stellar results in recent weeks.) What are your expectations for the four-time major winner as he heads toward the events where he has most distinguished himself: yep, the majors?
Zak: OK, I’m officially concerned. We were led to believe that Koepka was able to rehab that knee during the three-month shutdown. If it didn’t improve at all, that’s bad, bad news for BK. He won all those majors at (or very near) full strength. This was a major-esque challenge, and he buckled. I sure hope he can figure something out in two weeks time, but I highly doubt he can.
Sens: Koepka is nothing if not a straight shooter. If he says his knee is an issue, I believe him. As great as he has been, he’s not Tiger. I don’t see him winning majors on a bum wheel.
Bamberger: I could see two MCs and a win, at the third and final major.
Dethier: I hope he’s hustling us, only to come out of a cannon at Harding Park.
6. Phil Mickelson hit a 78-yard putt (!) Sunday. (It didn’t go particularly well.) What’s the wildest putt you’ve ever witnessed?
Zak: Editor’s note: Mickelson tried a 78-yard putt Sunday. He hit it about 67 yards. As for me, the wildest putt was Mickelson’s attempt at 62 at Troon in the 2016 Open. I watched it from atop the bleachers and then from every possible angle in the highlights. It was in the center of the cup with a foot to go and shoved HARD right, inexplicably, in the last six inches. With just a few feet between him and the cup, Nick Faldo said, “It’s in.” Somehow it wasn’t.
Sens: At the Preserve, the 13-hole par-3 course at Bandon Dunes, there’s a tradition of putting off the final tee, a rollicking downhill slalom run of a little over 100 yards. A couple of years ago, I watched GOLF.com’s fearless editor-in-chief, Alan “The Oil Derrick” Bastable ( so nicknamed because his head bobs almost to his knee caps on his backswing), lip out a hole-in-one on that closing hole. There was a poignant moment as the ball trickled toward the cup, as Bastable, normally a bottled-up man of Clint Eastwood-like stoicism, started running around the tee in celebration, putter held aloft, like Watson after his chip-in at Pebble in ‘82. Bastable has never made an ace, and the exhilaration-turned-disappointment on his face as the ball rimmed out captured in a flash the wild emotional swings that golf puts us all through at one point or another. I wish that ball had dropped, partly so that Bastable, after a lifetime of coming up empty, would have finally had his moment, but mostly so that the rest of us in his group could have then reminded him that, you know, given that we were playing a par-3 course, it didn’t really count as an official ace.
Bamberger: Lee Trevino, in his final Open, at the old course, in 2000, used a short-shafted, upright club for a grounder from 70 or 80 yards off the green. It wasn’t a putter, this particular club, but the great man, the most inventive shotmaker golf has ever seen, used a putting stroke. People were crying. It was so beautiful.
Dethier: Mickelson’s second putt on the 13th green at Shinnecock. You know, the one where he putted it mid-run. C’mon, fellas. It’s only been two years! There’s no topping that.