BROOKLINE, MA – Buoyed by an eagle at the Country Club’s gargantuan 641-yard par-5 14th hole, defending U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm powered into contention at the 122nd U.S. Open with a second round 67 for a two-day total of 4-under. He stands one shot behind co-leaders Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen. Along with Rahm, North Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Americans Hayden Buckley, Aaron Wise, and Beau Hossler are also 4-under. Masters Champion Scottie Scheffler stands two shots behind the leaders at 3-under, along with fellow Americans Matthew NeSmith, Nick Hardy, Patrick Rodgers, and Brian Harmon.
Take a moment to appreciate this stupendous leaderboard: Morikawa, McIlroy, Scheffler, and Rahm, between them a combined eight major championships, all within two shots of the lead. In fact, the relentless strategic marvel that is the Country Club’s Composite course has defended itself so well, no one has been able to break away and achieve separation. 23 players are under par and within four shots of the lead, and 30 players stand at EVEN par or better.
“It’s great. I think it’s a testament to the health and the state of this game,” Jon Rahm affirmed. “It’s pretty amazing to see Roryâ€¦playing back-to-back weeks and playing at the level he can. Obviously Scottie doing what he’s been doing all year, Collin Morikawa doing what he always does, myself doing what I always try to do, as well It’s fun for all of us because we all want to compete against the best and beat the best, and it’s obviously a lot more fun for people watching.”
Looking at Rahm’s scorecard is a bit deceiving. Yes the birdie-bogey-eagle stretch from 12-14 stands out, or perhaps the thunderbolt of a tee shot that drove the 305-yard, par-4 fifth green en route to a birdie, but it was Rahm’s sublime mid-range and long distance putting that really kept his round on full throttle.
“I think the key moment today was adding to the one on 10 with 15 or 17. Those three par putts in a row, all of them with some length to it, was key to keeping the round going,” he admitted. “And even though I bogeyed 1, finishing the last eight holes as good as I did was very important, so going in with a lot of confidence.”
Starting on the back nine, Rahm hit his opening tee shot in heavy, thick fescue right of the fairway. He muscled it into a greenside bunker, but could splash the sand shot no closer than 20 feet.
Then he made the putt. For a moment, it was shades of last year at Torrey Pines. Another huge, critical putt: starting the round with a par, not bogey. It’s always too early to start going backwards.
But that was just the start of Rahm’s high wire act. After his mercurial three hole run at 12-14, he missed the 15th fairway right and slashed his second intoâ€¦wait for itâ€¦another greenside bunker. He played it to 12 feet.
He saved par again. Buy that putter a drink when you’re finished with the round, Jon.
17 was zany for a different reason: Rahm sucked back a brilliant approach from pin high all the way off the green and down a false front well back in the fairway and into a collar of rough. With the ball well above his feet, he tried to hole the shot, but ran it ten feet by. No matter: When your putter is zoned in like Qs GPS tracer on James Bond, no problem.
And yes, the eagle was electrifying too. He reached the behemoth, uphill 616-yard par-5 14th with a drive and a iron. (Ridiculous!) His approach nestled to four feet. You can guess the rest.
“We definitely got in the right side of the wave this time,” Rahm offered honestly, although Thursday was more disparate in truth. “I don’t know how much the scoring difference is, but it went from looking really bad, maybe rain and thunder, and we didn’t know what was going to happen, and extremely windy, to we kind of made the turn and went to 2, got to 3, and we had perfect sunshine and the wind almost started to die down a little bit. Especially the last few holes.”
Rahm seeks to become the first golfer to win consecutive U.S. Open titles since Brooks Koepka (2017 and 2018 at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills respectively). Curtis Strange was the previous player to claim back-to-back Open titles, the first of which came right here at the Country Club in 1988 in a playoff over Nick Faldo. Before that it was Ben Hogan in ’50 and ’51, and then Ralph Guhldahl in 1937-38. Of course Bobby Jones accomplished the feat in 1929-30, the latter victory during the season where he bagged the Grand Slam.
The Country Club could be a perfect match for Rahm with his potentially dominant blend of sheer power, sublime finesse, and masterful intelligence. His depth of analysis mirrors the that of the great champions who have won majors on classic Golden Age golf courses.
“I think a setup like this or a setup like it was last week in Canada or Memorial where you have some rough to deal with, it really puts a premium on all aspects of the game. Especially on a golf course like this,” Rahm began excitedly. “The more I play it, the more I like it. It’s such a unique design to where you have options off the tee, and you can really pretty much choose whatever you want, and that’s why you have on the leaderboard so many players that hit it kind of a bit of a difference in length off the teeâ€¦.That’s what makes it so much fun, especially with a U.S. Open setup. And kind of having that length it always going to be an advantage, but it gets neutralized a couple time,” he concluded energetically.
Rahm has enjoyed widespread support not only as defending champion, but as a staunch and outspoken supporter of the PGA Tour in its Shakespearean-in-magnitude drama with the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series. His pre-tournament comments were well received by golf insiders and by fans, who have made that point known in the galleries.
“I consider the PGA TOUR has done an amazing job giving us the best platform for us to perform. I do see the appeal that other people see towards the LIV Golf…To be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me,” he stated firmly.
“Shotgun three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see. Yeah, money is great, but when Kelley and I — this first time thing happened, we started talking about it, and we’re like, will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA TOUR has that.”
Rahm went on to add, quite candidly, that after winning this past U.S. Open, and being the only player to claim a major at Torrey besides Tiger Woods, it meant something heartfelt and significant to him. It’s life events and connections like those that make him loyal to the Tour.
“Tiger and I making putts on the 18th hole, that’s a memory I’m going to have forever that not many people can say,” he explained. “My heart is with the PGA TOUR. That’s all I can say.”
Rahm also survived some weirdness during Thursday’s opening round. A wayward tee shot on 18 apparently was picked up by some young fans, who absconded with the golf ball.
“I’m pretty sure I know who it was. I recognized the two kids that were running the opposite way with a smile on their face. I am 100% sure I saw the two kids that stole it,” Rahm said, via PGATour.com and republished by Fox Sports. “I’m just really happy somebody spotted the ball first.”