It was a back nine for the ages at the 121st US Open as the tournament came alive with a host of pretenders vying for the trophy in the late Californian sunshine.
A crowded leaderboard, that at one point had no less than 10 players within one shot of the lead, meant it would take something special to separate the best from the rest. Two incredible clutch putts on 17 and 18 from Jon Rahm was enough to seal his first Major victory and become the first Spaniard to win the US Open.
Louis Oosthuizen gave it everything he had but, unfortunately, a wayward drive on the 17th hole that resulted in a costly bogey, had his flickering hopes for a second Major title all but disappearing. As a who’s who list of the world’s top golfers began to falter over the closing nine holes at Torrey Pines, it was Oosthuizen who stood tallest as Rahm moved into contention before sealing the deal with two career-defining putts totalling 43 feet in length on the 71st and 72nd holes. Second place for the second Major in succession, and a sixth runner-up finish in total will be heartbreaking for one of South Africa’s favourite golfing sons, however there is no doubting King Louis’ place in the top echelons of the gentleman’s game. Should the man from Albertinia not put away the clubs for his dream life on the farm in the near future, there is zero reason why he shouldn’t end his golf career having added to the sole Major title he won at The Home of Golf, all the way back in 2010.
Almost getting lost in the drama of the last three hours was Branden Grace, who played a superb round of 67, vaulting himself into a tie for seventh place, alongside Rory McIlroy and a host of others. Four birdies and no bogeys will leave Grace feeling extremely satisfied with his final-round performance, especially after his Sunday collapse at the PGA Championship had him heading in the other direction. It is incredibly satisfying to think that a small country such as ours continues to punch well above its weight on the international stage and although it has been nine years since we last celebrated a South African winner, it certainly feels like it’s only a matter of time before someone knocks the door down.
Charl Schwartzel was another South Africa who played consistently throughout the tournament without ever getting anything going, however, after missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Schwartzel will be buoyed courtesy of finishing T-19 and look to carry his improved performance over to The Open at Royal St Georges next month. It was another disappointing Sunday in a Major for Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who failed to register a single birdie and limped home in 40 over the final nine holes for an aggregate score of four over par, 288, good enough for T-31.
With the South Course at Torrey Pines presenting a stern challenge for the world’s best, a sum total of eight birdies for the tournament by Dylan Frittelli was only enough to offset half of the shots dropped, leaving the US-based South African in a tie for 46th on seven over par. Kudos to Wilco Nienaber who fought back valiantly this past Sunday, recording a final round of 72 and a tie for 68th in his first Major appearance.
In conclusion, congratulations to Jon Rahm, winning his first Major championship two weeks after having to withdraw from The Memorial in controversial circumstances due to Covid-19, and 10 weeks after becoming a first-time dad. Happy Fathers’ Day, Jon!