Tour Confidential: Jon Rahm’s moment, King Louis’ lay-up, Torrey Pines’ close-up
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’s breakthrough victory at the U.S. Open, Louis Oosthuizen’s decision to lay up, whether Torrey Pines deserves to host again, and more.
1. Jon Rahm won his first major in electric fashion, dropping hard-breaking birdie putts on the 71st and 72nd holes of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines to beat Louis Oosthuizen by one. Which part of Rahm’s game most powered him to this come-from-behind win?
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): His patience. Prior to his back-to-back birdie finish, Rahm made seven pars in a row to open the back nine. With Louis Oosthuizen opening a two-shot lead, Rahm could’ve pressed and made some sloppy bogeys. Instead, he waited until the time was right and pulled out some clutch putts down the stretch.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Rahm was a five-tool player today. Drove the ball beautifully. Spot-on irons. Unforgettably clutch putts. And some really deft chipping when it mattered (that up-and-down on the par-3 3rd kept his momentum going early). The capper was the patience Zephyr mentioned, which was maybe most evident on his second-to-last shot. Opting not to play aggressively on that bunker shot on 18 and choosing to trust his flat stick — that took a cool-minded maturity he hasn’t always shown.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): His ball-striking. Did he miss a shot Sunday? From the first wedge into 1, to the tight little nipped spinner into 2, to all the approaches to 20 feet on the back nine. The guy hit every shot well. Even the one on 18 that landed in the greenside bunker.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Supreme ball-strking and shot-making are almost a given with this guy. What really impressed me Sunday was his relative calm. Staying collected in the heat of battle has long been Rahm’s bugaboo, and while he showed some frustration after burning the edge on 14, he didn’t let it unravel him. Not much dropped for him through the first 54 holes and deep into the fourth round, but he stayed patient, because, he said, he knew the putts would come — and come they did, in the most critical moments of all.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): His putter. Without those two bombs on 17 and 18, we’re talking about King Louis, U.S. Open champion. Putt for dough and all that.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): His maturity. In what world is the Jon Rahm of the past few years resisting the urge to do something crazy as he toils away with pars while trailing down the back nine? He’s grown a lot, and his performance Sunday showed it.
2. Put Rahm’s last two holes in perspective. Where do they rank among the clutch finishes in recent major history?
Melton: It’s the best since … December, when A Lim Kim made three straight birdies at Champions Golf Club to close out a similarly impressive U.S. Women’s Open win.
Sens: It was up there. On the cool-under-pressure front, it’s hard to forget Dustin Johnson, playing under the cloud of a potential penalty at Oakmont. And closing it out with some ridiculously macho ball-striking.
Zak: It’s extremely up there. It had been some time since the men’s game saw a clutch, major-winning putt of any length on 18. And somehow that followed a better putt on 17. Considering Louis’ finish, too … they’re connected.
Bastable: I’m not ready to put it up against Tiger’s Torrey Open finish in 2008 — partly because of Tiger’s physical condition and partly because Tiger knew he had to make that putt — but, gosh, it sure felt similar, from the length of the putt to Rahm’s dropped jaw and fist-pump. Also, the difficulty of Rahm’s putts should not be understated. Big left-to-right swingers for a righty are always a big ask. Add the unpredictability of poa and, well, color me impressed.
Dethier: It’s funny, Rahm’s putts were long enough that it almost feels beyond the realm of simple skill that they went in. There’s some luck involved there too, right? I’m not sure if that makes them more or less clutch, but they were damn impressive either way. I was especially impressed with Rahm’s decision to take his medicine at 18 — a decision that obviously paid off.
Colgan: They’re on the short list of putts I’ve stood up from my couch and yelled because of. That seems like it’s worth something to me.
3. Oosthuizen had the lead for much of the late stages of the final round until Rahm’s closing birdies and Oosty’s 17th-hole bogey dropped Oosthuizen two back and needing an eagle on the reachable par-5 18th to force a playoff. After Oosthuizen’s drive found the left rough, he decided to lay up from 227 yards and take his chances on holing a short wedge shot. What did you make of his decision to lay up?
Melton: I don’t hate the decision to lay up considering the lie he had, but I think he pushed it a little too close to the green. I would’ve much rather seen Oosthuizen leave himself a full wedge so he could put a little more zip on the ball and bring it in from through the backdoor.
Sens: I’d have to defer to Mark Broadie on the percentages, but given that lie, and all that trouble lurking, laying up sure seemed like his best chance of making eagle.
Zak: The only reason you actually go for the green is if you can clear the water and STAY on the green, giving yourself a putt. That wasn’t happening from that lie. He made a fine decision for his game.
Bastable: [whispers] I actually thought the lie looked … decent? But, yes, who are we to question King Louis? Clearly he felt had a better chance to hole-out a wedge than whatever bunker shot or rough-choked chip he likely would have faced had he gone for it. From the stress-free comfort of my couch, though, I would have loved to see him give it a go.
Dethier: I’d have probably hacked something down the right side instead, leaving some sort of tricky flop shot that probably wouldn’t have gone in but might have had a better chance. I also probably would have hit it in the water and made 8. No real second-guessing from me.
Colgan: Hard to question the move, but frustrating for Louis (and for all of us) that we couldn’t have seen him give it a run at his own 72nd-hole magic and another playoff at Torrey.
4. Many players had a chance on Sunday, from Bryson DeChambeau to Brooks Koepka to Rory McIlroy to the three players who started the day tied for the lead: Oosthuizen, Russell Henley and Mackenzie Hughes. No doubt they’ll all be thinking what could have been, but which non-winner’s Sunday most surprised you?
Melton: I was shocked by Brooks’ finish. He played so well all day and then crumbled down the stretch. For someone who prides himself on flexing his muscle at the biggest moments, seeing him falter late was a surprise.
Sens: Bryson. When he seized the lead heading toward the turn, I figured he’d be off to the races. It was almost like he got body-snatched, and the bizarro-universe Bryson took control.
Zak: There was nothing more surprising than Bryson’s 44 on the back nine.
Bastable: Bryson might beg to differ. As he said on Sunday evening, that’s golf! Can’t help but think that Rory won’t toss and turn a bit tonight. He was cruising along, within one of the lead at one point, and then it all went south. Bogey on 11. Double on 12. Another golden major opportunity gone. When I look at the ’board, though, the biggest surprises might be Harris English and Guido Migliozzi grabbing top-5s. Didn’t see that coming on Saturday night.
Dethier: Bryson. Having played D3 college golf, I’ve seen plenty of players go 33-44 for a smooth 77, but it’s much more rare to see it from someone leading the U.S. Open.
Colgan: Ah Dyl, what I wouldn’t give for a “smooth 77.” … My biggest surprise was Xander. Entered the final round within striking distance of his first major, at his home course, and … whimpered his way to an even-par 71? Something doesn’t add up. The baffling armlock decision looms large.
5. The players by and large loved Torrey Pines — Phil Mickelson called it the best U.S. setup he’d ever played — but if social media is any indication, certain corners of golf fandom were less than enamored by the 2021 U.S. Open host site. What say you? Did Torrey’s South Course earn itself another Open this week?
Melton: I think it was a worthy test, if not the most exciting layout. I don’t know that it deserves a spot in the rumored “U.S. Open rota,” but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a championship held there once every 20 years or so.
Sens: It was an interesting week of architectural chatter, with design aficionados bashing Torrey for its lack of artistry and others calling those aficionados out-of-touch snobs. See any parallels to other conversations in our culture? But anyway. I think both sides were right in a sense. The architecture buffs were not wrong in many of their critiques of Torrey. And yet Torrey once again produced a riveting Sunday. So the design buffs were in the very small minority in being disappointed. Like it or not, the U.S. Open will be back at Torrey at some point in our lifetimes, assuming we all stick to high-fiber diets. And we’ll start the same debate all over again.
Zak: Torrey does not deserve another U.S. Open. The Tour visited this course five months ago. They’ll be back in another seven months. The setup, as many players noted, was not much different besides firmer greens. That kills the course intrigue that can carry excitement of its own throughout the week. The fact that good players played well at a Tour course does not mean it was major-championship worthy.
Bastable: Agree it feels way less special when a major visits a regular Tour stop. Part of the intrigue of majors is seeing a course you haven’t seen in years, if ever. That said, my sense is the vast majority of fans at home don’t care about venues. If 50-year-old Phil in the mix, or Brooks and Bryson duking it out, or Jon Rahm is winning his first major with two closing birdies, the fact that those moments are happening is way more meaningful to viewers than the course on which they’re happening.
Dethier: What a smart panel. These answers are all terrific. I love the fact that Torrey Pines is a muni hosting a major. I also don’t think it should, so long as the Farmers also stays at Torrey. Send this event to Chambers Bay instead!
Colgan: Does Torrey deserve another Open? Probably not. Do I still feel *incredibly* strongly that public-access courses should feature prominently among major championship hosts? Absolutely. Golf is elitist enough. Give the championships back to the people. (Bethpage, anyone?)
6. For storylines, it’s tough to beat Rahm winning his first major on his first Father’s Day and just days after coming back from a Covid quarantine. But what other story from the week will stick with you?
Melton: Richard Bland! He might’ve faded on the weekend, but what a fun storyline that was to follow over the first couple of days.
Sens: Damn. Zephyr took the words from the tip of my keyboard. Bland was a heart-warmer, for sure. But I’ll also remember that weird glitch in the matrix late in the day on Sunday, when many of the world’s best players all imploded within a small window of each other. Rory’s double on 12. Both Morikawa and Bryson making double on the par-5 13th, to name just a few of the stumbles. That was very strange and compelling stuff.
Zak: Matthew Wolff’s return! It was great seeing him back hitting golf shots, smiling all over, playing Wolff Golf. It’s exciting stuff, and it’s clear to see he’s in a better place now than he had been. A victory in its own right.
Bastable: Yeah, Sean nailed it. Seeing Wolff back in form was great fun, and listening to him was riveting. All week he spoke openly about the demons he’s been battling, including “managing the fear” of playing on a global stage. His honesty was as striking as it was refreshing. You can’t help but root hard for the guy.
Dethier: Guido Migliozzi! My man finished T4 with a fist-pumping Sunday 68 to shoot way the heck up the leaderboard. He probably had no idea when he finished, but he punched his ticket to the Masters in the process. Good week for Guido.
Colgan: Devastated that DD mentioned Guido — the man is an absolute fireball. Dylan Wu risked his Tour status to play in the event after making it through sectional qualifying, and I think that’s pretty jazzy. I hope he’s able to nab a card.