June 21, 2021
US Opens are lost, but this one was won!
Great players do great things and we witnessed Jon Rahm hole two improbable putts on the last two holes to win the 121st US Open at Torrey Pines. Many players are now looking back on the final round and thinking they could've won, but they didn't hit enough good shots or make the great putt when needed. It's tough to live up to high expectations and we have expected exceptionalism from Joh Rahm since he emerged on the golf scene five years ago. It was his time and he delivered in grand style.
What are the odds of making a 24 foot putt that broke six feet on the 71st hole and then following it up with an 18 footer with a break of three feet on the final hole of a national championship? PGA Tour statistics give the probability of making an 24 foot putt at only 11%, while an 18 foot putt is at 17%. Then add the degree of difficulty judging a six foot and three foot break on bumpy poe anna greens with history on the line. I would reduce the make percentage by over one half on each putt. Giving those assumptions, the compound probability mathematics comes out to less than 1% to make both. Somehow Rahm did it and joins other hall of fame players that also have defied the odds. How many times has Tiger Woods made a final putt or Jack Nicklaus continue to make clutch putt after clutch putt. The top achievers defy odds.
Louie Oosthuizen is a fantastic ball striker and a worthy Major winner, but not someone that you can count on to make an important putt or avoid a critical mistake. At no time did I believe he was going to step up and be clutch when it mattered most. I didn't want a train wreck, but his mistake at 17 was inexcusable. Sad for him, but it also explains his six runner-up finishes in major championships and his zero wins on the PGA Tour.
At one time, on the front nine, there were 4 players tied for the lead and 6 other players one stroke behind. With nine holes to play, Bryson DeChambeau and Oosthuizen were at five under with Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa one stroke behind. The cream had risen to the top and the game was on. However, the cream quickly soured and supposed rock solid superstars cracked dramatically. Rory must be especially questioning his mental toughness. He missed so many makeable putts and finished three over for the last eight holes. The reality is that Rory is not a good putter or wedge player. He has his flashes of brilliance, but not what it takes for him to win major championships on a consistent basis. Wouldn't be surprised if he wins more majors, but it will have to be a lucky putting week.
This tournament was playing into Brooks Koepka's hands, but he failed to take advantage. He is a superstar with four major championships and a persona of "give no inch" and will step up his game when the going gets tough. Past majors and this one have shown he doesn't have another gear when pushed. Two bogies in the last three holes isn't closing the deal. Great players win on any stage; Brooks plays well on occasion, but not consistently. Bravado will only go so far. Tiger Woods won or was close in any tournament that he entered. Brooks doesn't have that quality of game. DeChambeau on the other hand competes or is competitive in most tournaments he enters. I feel he is still a "work in progress". He had the lead with eight holes to play. Bogies on 11 and 12 put him one back, but he was far from out of it. Then the "kill it and gouge it" approach finally got to him and he was through after the 13th hole with a double bogie. This will sting for a while, but not linger. He had a plan and it didn't work. Scientists don't dwell on failures; they look at it as a teaching experience and learn from it. Bryson is far from figuring his game out. It could be scary if he finds the right formula.
You will notice that some of the top finishers in this year's Open weren't even in the discussion the last day. They didn't have a realistic chance and put up a good number and had a high finish. The course could have yielded a low number, but the world's best couldn't deliver. US Opens are lost and Oosthuizen, Koepka, McIlroy, DeChambeau, Morikawa, D. Johnson, Schauffele, and J. Thomas succumbed to the pressure and lost! Only Jon Rahm was able to close the deal and deliver.
Great players do great things. It might have been luck, but it happened. Tiger seemed to "will" balls into the cup. Jack wouldn't let a ball not go in the hole. Rahm did it at the most critical time. Jon might be on his way to being one of those great players.