BROOKLINE, MA – Shocking, positively shocking: but delightful as well. Golfer after golfer seized the lead during some point in the third round of the 2022 U.S. Open – eight in all, including three major champions – and none of them could hold on. The country club started as a polo and racing grounds, but it played like a ferociously bucking bronco, sending the world’s best golfers tumbling down the leader board. When the dust cleared and everyone picked themselves out of the dirt, the two players with the least hoof prints on their back were young American Will Zalatoris and England’s rising star Matthew Fitzpatrick, neither of whom had own a major. But is was the plight of others that left them the overnight leaders.
Take your pick which was worst. Let’s start with the obvious, Jon Rahm’s brain spasm on 18. The closing hole at the Country Club is not a difficult hole. Pesky, perhaps, but not difficult, and certainly not the kind of hole you turn into chopped salad. And definitely, DEFINITELY not the kind of hole where you fritter away a one shot lead into a one shot deficit going into the final round, but that’s exactly the ghastly mistake Rahm made.
Standing 5-under, Rahm had caught fire late, birdying 14, 15, and 17 to take a one shot lead. Playing in the second to last pairing of the day, and knowing the twosome behind him had both floundered (Joel Dahman had a 74 and finished 1-under, and overnight co-leader Collin Morikawa carded 77 and sank to 2-over) Rahm drove into the left fairway bunker.
Mistake number one: all the room in the world to the right, and of course he drove left. Facepalm.
But then came the lightning strike, the shot of the day, the one that let a whole bunch more people back into the tournament. Trying to heroically muscle an 8-iron to the green from Brookline’s soft sand over the tall, thick-fescued eyebrows, Rahm didn’t even come close. Your old Aunt Sally hit that shot – a thin *THWACK* as club hit ball, and then a *THUMP* as it caromed into the grassed-over sandy face.
Then it rolled back, smirking at Rahm as it did. It came to rest about one centimeter from where it started.
By all rights, it should have rolled into Rahm’s footprint.
You could read his eyesâ€¦not quite a look of horror, but at least some reprieve. Thank Heaven for small favors? Still, mistake number two. Time to bear down and limit the damage, right?
But the Country Club wasn’t quite through with the defending champ yet. Or is it that the defending champ wasn’t through doing it to himself? Maybe it’s both, but Rahm hit the next sand shot into the chasm of a bunker that guards the front of the green at the closing hole.
Fried egg: mistake number 3.
That’s how you make a double bogey on 18. At least he didn’t do it on Sunday. ***COUGH! COUGH! MITO PEREIRA! MITO PEREIRA! COUGH1 COUGH! MITO PEREIRA! MITO PEREIRA!***
Still, Rahm was optimistic, as he should be. It’s 18 more grueling holes, and a cold windy, wild five hours to go.
“The truth is, 18, it was six good shots. Unfortunately, it added up to 6, but it was all good swings, Rahm said curiously. “If anything, it was maybe a choice or a decision on the fairway bunker, but swings were good, so execution was proper. So I’m happy about that in that sense.”
When pressed however, Rahm was good enough to candidly admit the other side of the argument as well.
“Maybe I was trying to get too cuteâ€¦looking for another birdie, where I could have just hit a 9-iron and hope it gets over the bunker and see what happens,” he grinned sheepishly. “It is what it is. I think I got a little bit too cute with the shot.”
Note to Jon: 18’s not the place to get cute. Signed, Jean van de Velde.
Then there’s the tragedy of poor Collin Morikawa, who fell down the leader board like his parachute didn’t open. Morikawa burst out of a pack of nine players at the 2020 PGA Championship to win his first major, then he throttled the field with precision play over the quirky links of St. George’s TO WIN THE 2021 Open Championship. With a lead after 36 holes, he looked a lock to be the steadiest shotmaker over the weekend and hoist a U.S. Open surely.
Apparently Collin’s evil twin got out of his car, said, “Oh, look! A U.S. Open! Let’s go and hack at it!” and zig-zagged across the rocks and chocolate drops of the Country Club like a lost cat. Four bogeys and two doubles in the 12 hole span of 4-15 sent the two-time major winner off the first page of the leader board and into a tie for 17th, six strokes behind the leaders.
What a soul crushing round, and on moving day as well. Three-putt double bogey at the relatively easy seventh, a tugged wedge into shaggy rough at the 13th, (after laying up), and three more to get down for another double bogey: those were bad enough. But even his goof shots were just not quiote perfect enough. The 18th was a microcosm. The tee shot? One inch oin the roughâ€¦one inch. The approach? Just enough of a flyer to get over the flag and to the swale that would ordinarily swerve the ball back to the pin. This could turn out great!
Except it stopped on the ridgeâ€¦35 feet away. Inexplicable, except “That’s golf.”
Morikawa was hoping to become the fifth golfer to win three different majors before turning 26, joining McIroy, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.
So who’s going to win? The guy who happens to be a head after 72 holes, that’s who. Unless there’s two of themâ€¦then there’s a ***WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY THE “P” WORD*** Even though every time the U.S. Open has come to the Country Club there has been a *** WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY THE “P” WORD*** won by Francis Ouimet, Julius Boros, and Curtis Strange respectively.
And there’s one other winner as well: The Country Club. This course truly is the definitive article. It’s sad the footprint is so small; the event has to be streamlined in nearly every way. But this is a proper golf course. And one look at the leaderboard will assure you – we will have a proper battle and a proper winner as well.