KAWAGOE, Japan — Men’s golf began Thursday in the Olympics, and the No. 1 player in the world was nearly 6,000 miles away watching from home. Jon Rahm still can’t believe he’s not playing.
“I didn’t think ever that I was not going to be there,” Rahm said in a phone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I can’t even tell you what happened.”
The simple explanation is that he received a positive COVID-19 test the day before he planned to leave for Tokyo and fulfill his dream of playing in the Olympics, a chance to add a medal to a banner year that includes a U.S. Open title.
The mystery is why it happened to him.
Rahm passed five COVID-19 tests as part of the PGA Tour’s contact tracing at the Memorial the first week in June, and the sixth test came back positive. He was notified moments after he had built a six-shot lead going into the final round, costing him a likely victory.
He had started the vaccination process that week, and because he was asymptomatic, Rahm ended his self-isolation early with back-to-back days of negative results.
Then he won the U.S. Open, the first major championship for the 26-year-old golfer from Spain.
“For people who don’t know, I needed three negative tests,” he said. “Thursday, negative. Friday, negative. Saturday, positive. I did a second one to make sure it wasn’t a false positive.”
Rahm said he went back on Sunday and took a saliva test, an antibody test and a PCR test. The saliva and PCR tests came back negative, and it was confirmed he had the COVID-19 antibodies.
By then, he said, he could not have received three straight negative results and arrived in Tokyo in time to play at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where he would have been the betting favorite.
Along with already having COVID-19 and being vaccinated, Rahm said he flew privately to England for the British Open, where he passed every test required to play. He tied for third, the only player this year to have top-10 finishes in all four majors.
More frustrating to Rahm is searching for answers on why this happened to him.
“I haven’t had two experts tell me the same thing,” he said.
Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president who has overseen the COVID-19 protocols, was not involved in any of Rahm’s tests and hasn’t spoken to him. From his experience and working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said it sounded like what the tour dealt with last summer.
Some players still tested positive for weeks — sometimes months — after 10 days of isolation and no symptoms.
“The reason the CDC does not require someone to test again after 10 days of isolation is it’s very likely that for some period the test is going to detect remnant viral particles,” said Levinson, who also is head of USA Golf at the Olympics.
“Each day you have less remnant viral particles in your body,” he said. “If someone is taking a swab, it could be negative, and another day they could catch particles. It’s conceivable his positive result was related to that, particularly in a subsequent test.”
The tour’s CDC-guided protocols allowed for players who tested positive for the coronavirus to not have to be tested for 90 days.
But this is the Olympics. The ruling body is the Japanese government, and the policy is strict.
Rahm has learned to temper his passion this year, helped by the perspective of his wife giving birth to their first child, a boy named Kepa. He credits that new outlook with allowing him to bounce back from the Memorial disappointment by winning the U.S. Open.
That positive result before the Olympics tested him.
“Five months ago, I would have been more mad about it. Not this time, but it did take more than a day to get over it,” Rahm said. “Clearly, I don’t have it. But the dream of being an Olympian is going to have to wait three more years. That’s really upsetting in a sense.”
There’s a big upside. Through the pandemic, Rahm has learned from experience that golf is irrelevant. A close friend from Spain died of COVID-19. He and his family are healthy.
“In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t get to play two big events,” Rahm said. “Golf is secondary. My wife, my son, my family is what’s important. I can’t say it’s a bad year. I got the U.S. Open trophy. I’m No. 1 in the world. I’m never going to say I’m an unlucky person.”
Golf is back in the Olympics for the second time after a 112-year absence, following a successful return in Brazil in 2016, when England’s Justin Rose captured the gold medal. Rose held off Sweden’s — and then-reigning Open champion — Henrik Stenson. American Matt Kuchar finished third to win the bronze.
None of the three medalists are back this time when the event begins Thursday just outside Tokyo. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama figures to be among the biggest storylines in his home country, but there are plenty of others, including one that involves a couple of top players who will not participate — Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau.
Here is a look at the tournament.
Only 60 players qualify for the competition, based on the Official World Golf Ranking of June 21. A maximum of two players per country can participate, with up to four if all of the players are ranked among the top 15 in the world. The United States had 10 players ranked among the top 15 and is the only country to qualify the maximum of four players.
If one player qualified for the tournament, another player from that country could also participate, regardless of ranking. And if someone from a country withdrew, another player from that country could take the spot, so long as that player qualified within the ranking criteria.
Starting Thursday, there will be 72 holes of stroke play through Sunday, with no cut.
There are 35 countries that have at least one player competing in the tournament.
Kasumigaseki Country Club is the home for both the men’s and women’s events. The club is a 36-hole facility located about 35 miles outside of Tokyo, with the East Course being used for the competition. Opened in 1929, the club has hosted several high-profile tournaments, including the 1957 World Cup, where Koichi Ono and Torakichi Nakamura of Japan defeated the heavily-favored U.S. team of Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret. It has also been home to multiple Japan Opens, Japan men’s and women’s amateur championships and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, won by Matsuyama — earning him his first invitation to the Masters the following year.
The East Course has made Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the world and underwent a renovation in 2016 by Tom and Logan Fazio. It measures 7,466 yards and features the Japanese dual green system, meaning each hole has two greens, one used for summer play and the other in the winter.
Spain’s Jon Rahm figured to be a strong bet to win the gold medal, given his recent form that included a victory at the U.S. Open and a T-3 at The Open. But prior to leaving for Tokyo, Rahm tested positive for COVID-19, ending his dream of representing his country in the Olympic Games.
Rahm’s withdrawal — along with that of Bryson DeChambeau, who also tested positive for COVID-19 — means a rocky start for a tournament that expected to see both players figure prominently. This is Rahm’s second COVID-19 withdrawal; he was forced out of the Memorial in June after three rounds of an event in which he led by six strokes going into the final round.
Given his positive test there, Rahm would have no longer been required to test on the PGA Tour for at least three months. The Tour actually had plans starting last week to halt its testing program.
Dustin Johnson would have qualified, but he announced in March he would be skipping the Olympics. Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele are top-10 in the world and will be considered among the favorites to win the event — or at least earn a medal. Patrick Reed, who is replacing DeChambeau, has fallen to 13th but was ninth when the Olympic cutoff occurred on June 21. He’s the only American to have competed at Rio in 2016, when he tied for 11th. Both Morikawa and Schauffele have Japanese family ties, which heightened their interest in competing.
He won’t be competing in the Olympics, and perhaps an eventful month that included a back-nine blow up at the U.S. Open, a caddie break-up at the Rocket Mortgage and then a dust-up with his equipment manufacturer at The Open (for which DeChambeau apologized), this will be a welcome break. DeChambeau was in need of a re-set anyway, and will get that chance.
Reed appears excited about the opportunity that was presented when DeChambeau had to withdraw and will endure quite a few hassles to make it happen. He was required to go through a prolonged testing process that won’t get him to Tokyo until Wednesday, which means he will not have time for a practice round.
Fresh off his Open victory — and second major championship — Morikawa now takes a shot at Olympic glory. He became just the eighth player to win two majors before the age of 25 as well as becoming the first to win two majors in his debut appearance in each.
As for the Olympics, Morikawa was certainly excited about the prospects when he qualified.
“It’s going to be one of the best things of my life,” he said. “To think back that I was an amateur two years ago, literally two years ago, and to be on this team and heading to Tokyo puts a smile on my face. I’m really excited.”
A lot of attention will be focused on Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship when he captured the Masters in April. Matsuyama, who won the 2009 Japan Junior Championship and the Asia-Pacific Amateur at the same course in 2010 (and then defended his title a year later in Singapore), has had little success since his victory at Augusta National. He tested positive for COVID-19 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which caused him to skip The Open. Rikuya Hoshino, ranked 76th in the world, is the other Japanese player in the field.
Justin Rose is not in Tokyo to defend his Gold from Rio, but fellow Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey are determined to keep the medal for the United Kingdom. Both players have come across as more than eager for this opportunity, spurred on by the joy shown by Rose.
“What came from that was the surprise of how proud Justin was and the emotions he felt from winning,” Fleetwood said. “He spoke to me about it a lot. I just think it was really cool seeing his face light up and hearing him talk about how he felt about not only competing in Olympics but being an Olympic gold medalist. It was very, very cool seeing him and watching him talk about it.”
Fleetwood added that “you’re not just playing as an individual, you’re playing for the nation. I don’t know that we would see that as pressure. We would see that as a proud moment and something that we’re, really, really excited about. It is fantastic that we’ve had a gold medalist for our sport, and I’m sure we would just absolutely love to keep that going.”
Juvic Pagunsan is the sort of player golf’s leaders had in mind when they began pushing for inclusion in the Olympics more than 15 years ago. It wasn’t all about the top names; part of the plan was to inspire Olympic participation in countries where golf might have otherwise been underserved.
Pagunsan is 43 and from the Philippines. He has played most of his golf on the Japan Tour, where earlier this year he won his first title, the 2021 Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open. He used only 11 clubs and had to carry his own bag due to COVID-19 restrictions, which did not allow caddies. That victory got him into The Open but he elected to skip the tournament at Royal St. George’s in order to prepare for the Olympics.
Viktor Hovland and Kristian Krogh Johannessen will represent Norway at the Olympics. They have known each other for years. Johannessen has been somewhat of a mentor to Hovland, who played college golf at Oklahoma State and has won twice on the PGA Tour. They partnered at the 2013 European Boys event.
“We have a very rich Olympic tradition,” Hovland said. “Now, with golf being an Olympic sport, I think it would be great for people back home to just get into the sport.”
How important is the Olympics to Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim? The South Koreans are both prominent players on the PGA Tour. Each decided to skip The Open in order to be better prepared for the Olympic tournament. And it’s not just the medals they covet: Earning a spot on the podium means an exemption from military service.
Both Im and Kim are subject to compulsory military duty called conscription in South Korea. Males ages 18 to 28 are required to serve at some point. Sangmoon Bae was on the International Presidents Cup team in 2015, his last professional event before his mandatory service. He came back to golf and won on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. But it has been a struggle to regain his place. Bae barely played during his two years of service.
The way to avoid military service? Win an Olympic medal.
Gold, silver and bronze medals are the obvious prizes for Olympic glory. There is no prize money.
For those competing in the tournament, world ranking points are being offered. But it appears that the Olympic competition will have a strength of field that offers fewer than 50 world ranking points to the winner, a number that was decreased due to the loss of Rahm and DeChambeau. That would put the Olympics in line with a tournament such as the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Those points can be particularly important to those players farther down the list.
The tournament is also considered an official event on the European Tour and a victory would offer full status there. The winner of the tournament will also receive a one-year exemption into the major championships and the Players Championship, while the medalists are exempt from local or first-stage qualifying for the U.S. Open.
SUNNINGDALE, England — Stephen Dodd birdied the final hole to win the Senior British Open by one stroke on Sunday, holding off challenges from Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke to secure his first major title.
The 55-year-old Welshman closed with a 2-under 68 at Sunningdale for a four-day total of 13-under 267. Jimenez, the 2018 winner, shot 65 to finish at 12 under, while Clarke (67) was another shot behind.
Dodd equaled the low round in the history of the tournament on Saturday with an 8-under 62 that gave him a two-shot lead heading into the final round of the last senior major championship of the year.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer (68) was fourth, another two shots back. The 63-year-old Langer won in 2019 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for his fourth victory in the event. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two-time British Open champion Ernie Els (72) tied for eighth.
A three-time European Tour winner, Dodd made his senior debut at the Senior British Open in 2016, when he had his previously best finish at the event, a share of 14th place.
BLAINE, Minn. — Cameron Champ was struggling mightily through the first half of this year, a frustrating series of performances that pointed him back to his state of mind more than any mechanical flaw.
Like many newlyweds, the 26-year-old was distracted by the delicate balance of passionately pursuing his career while still trying to carve out a healthy personal life at home. He found himself becoming much too upset by a bad round.
There sure wasn’t much for Champ to be mad about at the 3M Open.
Champ fended off dehydration and crisply putted his way to a 5-under 66 on Sunday, winning by 2 strokes for his third career victory.
“I just took a complete 180 in how I’m waking up every morning and how I’m reacting to certain things and adjusting to certain things,” said Champ, who had five birdies in a bogey-free round to finish at 15-under 269 at TPC Twin Cities.
Champ joined Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau as the only under-28 players to win in each of the past three seasons on tour. He jumped from 142nd to 49th in the FedEx Cup standings, with the top 125 qualifying for the playoff opener.
This month has brought quite the turnaround for the Texas A&M product, after nine missed cuts and one withdrawal over his first 16 starts of 2021. The best finish in that stretch was a tie for 17th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Champ hit the reset button after missing the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit three weeks ago though, and emerged with a tie for 11th at the John Deere Classic in Illinois.
“After Detroit, I just took a step back and said, ‘You know what? This is enough. I can’t keep going on this way. I’m not enjoying the game,'” Champ said.
His wife, Jessica, was surely happy to hear that.
“It’s more so realizing what I want to do in the game of golf and then who I want to be at home,” Champ said. “It’s a balance you have to find, and if you don’t, it can really haunt you and it can cause a lot of issues. So I just feel like the last two months I’ve been in a lot better head space.”
During another 90-degree day, Champ was far from his physical best. He felt some dizziness along the back nine, putting his hands on his knees at one point as he hung his head to try to regain some composure. He had plenty of it on the last hole, after his safe strategy with the tee shot to stay away from the lake landed way left in a trampled, sandy area directly behind a clump of trees.
Champ managed to chip out onto the primary rough, then scoot up the fairway. His approach was a beauty that landed perfectly and rolled back toward the pin. He sank the easy par putt and had enough energy to pump his arms in celebration of his first top-10 finish since last October.
“The Gatorade definitely helped, I think, keep me going,” said Champ, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2019, the year he turned pro, and the Safeway Open in 2020.
He had the best putting performance of the 3M Open field, with an average of 8.48 strokes gained.
Oosthuizen shot 66 too, in a much stronger finish than the previous weekend at The Open, where his 54-hole lead turned into a tie for third after a fourth-round 71.
Playing six pairs ahead of Champ, Oosthuizen birdied three of the last four holes to give himself an outside chance. His approach to the 18th green almost yielded an eagle on the PGA Tour’s hardest par-5 hole, but the ball lipped out. Oosthuizen made a 2½-foot putt for birdie instead and his fourth runner-up finish in seven starts. Schwartzel, his fellow South African, posted a 68 to match Vegas in the final round.
“We had a good time here this week, and I’m just trying to see if I can go one better than all these seconds and thirds,” Oosthuizen said.
Cameron Tringale, a 1-stroke leader after the third round, took a triple bogey on the par-3 13th hole right after consecutive birdies had brought him back into contention. He shot 74 and finished 6 strokes behind Champ, leaving PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson as the only 54-hole leader or co-leader to win in the past 13 tour events.
Newly minted Olympian Patrick Reed tied for 34th at 6 under, before heading home to Texas to get ready for Tokyo. He found out Saturday he’d been added to the U.S. team after DeChambeau tested positive for COVID-19.
“Once I start an event,” Reed said, “I’m definitely going to finish the event.”
Spain’s Nacho Elvira continued his fine form to take a six-shot lead into Sunday’s final round at Celtic Manor, Wales on Saturday.
The 34-year-old is chasing his maiden European Tour win and carded a 5-under-par 66 to finish Round 3 at 16 under.
“I struggled a bit this year. To be in contention is a gift,” Elvira said. “It shows that the work I’ve been doing is paying off. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but I’m happy with the way I am to be honest.
“I’ve watched so many clips of Seve [Ballesteros]. He’s an inspiration. We’re from the same town, I’m from the North, and I’ve always looked up to him. He’s an inspiration to so many players.
“Also José María [Olazabal], we get to see him every now and then at tournaments. He always has good advice and he’s the nicest guy. To have him around is fantastic. I wish I could follow their footsteps, but it’s a little bit far away.”
Four players are chasing Elvira at 10-under, including England’s Callum Shinkwin, who shot 14 places up the leaderboard with a superb 8-under 63, the joint lowest of the week.
BLAINE, Minn. — Adam Hadwin missed the weekend cuts in his last three tournaments, continuing a disappointing stretch as he dropped to 120th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The 33-year-old Canadian has put himself in position to get back in contention for the playoffs with a strong run at the 3M Open.
Hadwin shot a 6-under 65 on Friday for a share of the lead with Ryan Armour at 10-under 132. Armour shot 65.
“I drove it really well today,” Hadwin said. “Wasn’t in any trouble, hit a lot of good quality iron shots. Again, fat sides of the hole, I gave myself opportunities. My speed control’s been really good. It’s been as stress-free a 65 as you’re going to have.”
Hadwin and Armour were two of few players in the afternoon to go low as wind started to play a role following a hot and humid morning with heat indexes reaching 100 degrees.
Second-ranked Dustin Johnson bogeyed the 18th hole after putting his tee shot in the water and missed the cut. He shot 72 to finish at even par. The cut was 2-under.
Staying in contention this weekend would be a boon to Hadwin and Armour.
Hadwin, who finished fourth in the inaugural 3M Open in 2019, was just inside the cut for the FedEx Cup playoffs. The top 125 in the standings make the playoffs. Armour started the tournament 135th.
“I think the biggest thing coming in this week, I’ve just been a little bit more committed to the process and less on the outcome,” Hadwin said. “Certainly playoffs, maintaining status, all that stuff has probably been creeping in a bit in the last little bit and I probably got away from some of the little details that make this game happen for us. So, I’ve gotten back to that these last three rounds and it’s worked out a lot better for me.”
Hadwin, famous for shooting a 59 at the CareerBuilder Challenge in 2017, had a 69 on the final day of the British Open and followed with a 67 on Thursday in Minnesota. His only PGA Tour win was the Valspar Championship in 2017.
Armour’s lone victory came in the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship. He’s coming off a fifth-place finish at last week’s Barbasol Championship. He birdied five of his final eight holes Friday.
“I’m trying,” Armour said. “We’ll worry about the points later. I don’t feel like I’ve really had as bad a year as 135 sounds. I missed five or six cuts by a shot, so you’re always kind of around that cut line and I just fell on the wrong side of it a few times. That’s what kind of gnaws at you because you feel like, man, it’s not that bad, so maybe I should be higher, but you’ve got to go out and get it done and we’re just trying our hardest right now.”
Eleven players finished their first rounds Friday after a weather delay Thursday left them unable to finish. With more inclement weather forecast overnight, the 3M Open will go with threesomes off split tees Saturday.
Vegas was able to finish in the dark on Thursday, but it wasn’t without incident as his approach on the 18th hit the top of a hospitality tent. The ball was found and he was given relief and finished with a birdie and a tie for the lead.
One of four players at the 3M Open slated to play in next week’s Olympics, Vegas kept his strong recent form going Friday. The Venezuelan was among the leaders before a bogey finish on the ninth hole, which is playing as the toughest on the course.
Vegas has tied for 11th or better in three of his last five tournaments.
“I feel I like I’m keeping the ball in play pretty well, giving myself enough chances, making a few putts, which is always good,” Vegas said. “The wind is blowing and it’s kind of that intensity that is a little bit annoying, especially some of those shots with so much water around this place, but played solid. I can’t really complain too much.”