2021 Northern Trust Preview: Jon Rahm Downplays Déjà Vu Narrative Ahead of FedExCup Playoffs
ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — There’s a narrative surrounding Northern Trust pre-tournament favorite and world No. 1-ranked Jon Rahm this week.
Admittedly, it might not be the strongest storyline, but it goes a little something like this: In his first start after testing positive for COVID-19, he bounced back to win the U.S. Open. So maybe this week, in his first start after a second positive result, maybe increased motivation or extra rest will lead to a similar outcome.
Not so fast, says Rahm himself.
“It’s a little different situation,” he said Tuesday at Liberty National, host venue for this week’s first of three FedExCup playoff events. “There’s no trick to it. Nothing special I can tell you, no secret ingredient that made me win that week. I spoke extensively over it just because, like I said, being positive, the power of thinking positively, and that’s what I always did.
“I told the people around me right after what happened at Memorial happened, that something good was coming my way. I didn’t know what and I didn’t know when, but something good was coming. I’m a good person, I know I am, and good things happen to good people. And I’m definitely a believer in karma to an extent, so that’s what I was thinking.”
Of course, there could be a sense that Rahm’s karma card still has some points left on it, that even without a secret ingredient there could be a recipe to success buried in the bad news.
Speaking for the first time since missing out on representing Spain at the Olympics and then opting to skip the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Rahm explained that he remains befuddled at the series of mixed results leading up to his withdrawal.
“This was a little harder to digest than the Memorial because I’ve done everything the system tells me to do,” he said. “I got all my negatives. First one on Thursday, negative. Friday, negative. Saturday, I get my first positive. And then they tested me again that same day and I apparently was positive again. Then I got tested the next two days. One was the saliva test, one was PCR, both negative. Got an antibody test done, so blood test, and I had the antibodies.
“So I can’t really explain what in the world happened. I don’t know if it’s false-positives or just what I had left over from when I had COVID, just dead cells that were in there that we all know can happen. There’s a reason why the PGA TOUR won’t test you for a while after you’ve had COVID.”
If there are positives to Rahm’s summer of strife — other than winning his first major championship in the middle of all this, of course — it’s that his public reaction to it has been a masterclass in how to win friends and influence people.
Rahm’s first positive result came after the third round of the aforementioned Memorial Tournament, when he was leading by a half-dozen strokes and undoubtedly on his way to a long-awaited victory. There was no grousing or groaning in the aftermath — at least not from him — just a player whose on-course maturity level has often been questioned displaying an unquestioned level of maturity.
Two weeks later, on the eve of the opening round of the U.S. Open, he stood in the player interview area at Torrey Pines and elaborated on those thoughts, never once offering a “woe is me” opinion or impugning the methods behind which he was forced to withdraw.
And Tuesday at Liberty National, though he might have been exasperated from the déjà vu, Rahm again handled the situation with grace and class, reacting more with disappointment than anger.
“I understand it’s a weird case because I tested negative so quickly and tested negative and tested negative all throughout the UK, and I get here and the test is positive,” Rahm said. “It really is unfortunate. It sucked because I wanted to represent Spain. I wanted to play that one. I wanted to hopefully give Spain a medal. I was wishing for a gold medal, but just being part of that medal count for the country would have been huge. It was more devastating in that sense. I was more in the mindset of playing for them more than me. Still makes me a little sad, I’m not going to lie.”
All of which leads to this week and that undercurrent of speculation that if he recovered from dealing with the first episode with such aplomb, maybe he can do it again this week.
He isn’t encouraging that narrative, but he also isn’t downplaying it.
Rahm knows that there are some inherent benefits to staying fresh late in the season, when so many of his elite peers might be feeling some physical or mental exhaustion.
“As unfortunate as it was, it gave me some time to rest,” he explained. “So I think, maybe not this week but looking into the next few weeks, probably physically, mentally, I’ve been more rested than everybody else. So that could be my advantage.”