PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jon Rahm told the media on Saturday night following a third-round 64 that he was a changed man. Gone were the days of the temper tantrums and the anger on the golf course that had both helped and hurt the 24-year-old when he had been under the gun. Sunday at the Players Championship was the best test possible for his theory with Rahm holding the solo 54-hole lead and facing both difficult conditions and a stacked leader board.
Whether you think he passed the test depends on your perspective. The Spaniard stumbled out of the gates as he played in the final twosome and never fully recover, ultimately shooting a four-over 76 to fall into a tie for 12th. He did show some resolve, battling back from three bogeys in his first four holes to make the turn at one over par. That kept him firmly in the tournament given he was not alone in struggling on TPC Sawgrass’ front nine.
But the back nine was a slightly different story. It began at the par-5 11th, where Rahm pulled his tee shot into a fairway bunker. He had just 220 yards to the hole, but trees in front of him. His caddie, Adam Hayes, attempted to call Rahm off from trying to reach the green in two given the big hook he’d need to hit from a suspect lie. Rahm overruled Hays, and put one in the drink up near the green. NBC mics picked up Rahm angrily letting off an F-bomb and you could see him make a slight kick of the grass as he exited the bunker in disgust. He was doing his best to contain himself, but it’s not an easy task when a tournament with this magnitude is slipping away.
“Very hard, it’s very hard to constantly battle that and try to play good golf,” said Rahm, who eventually made a 6 at the 11th to fall back to 13 under.
Still, on the next hole he bounced back, holing an 11-footer for birdie at the par-3 13th. There was still time left to salvage the round and even win the tournament. “I felt like I was doing it OK after that bogey at 11, gave myself a great chance with a birdie on 13, made a couple good swings on 14, but I just couldn’t find it off the tee today,” he continued. “When you’re not hitting fairways, you’re not going to give yourself a chance. And it’s not like I was missing it by a yard, I was quite a ways off.”
Rahm’s poor driving continued on the 15th, where he pulled his tee shot, leading to another bogey. He failed to birdie the par-5 16th because of another poor tee shot, and at the par-3 17th he found the water, ending any hopes of a miracle finish.
No doubt there were times when Rahm looked like he wanted to explode, but for the most part he kept it together, at least in his mind.
“It is what it is. It’s golf. At least I’m proud of the way I handled myself,” Rahm said. “Old Jon would have lost it, maybe would have been more productive because getting mad has helped out before, but it just wasn’t a pretty picture for me. Proud of the way I handled myself, happy about that. Still stings to not have a better chance down at the end.”
Considering his past history, the way he handled himself should be seen as a small step forward. This “new” Rahm wasn’t just going to completely change overnight.
“Like I said yesterday, it’s been a lot of hard work that paid off the first three days,” Rahm said. “I knew it was going to be a test and in some aspects it was a success and in some others it wasn’t. Again, it’s the last piece of the puzzle that I need to figure out in my mind and my game to contend more often, but I’m happy about it. It is what it is, I’ll learn and I’ll keep growing and it won’t be the last time I have a lead after 54 holes.”