Column: Tales from the PGA Tour after a long year of golf

Two spectators and a golf writer should have seen this coming.

Jon Rahm finished the 15th hole in Muirfield Village on a practice lap for the Memorial. As they made their way to the next tee, two spectators approached for an autograph.

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“I’m sorry, I can’t,” Rahm replied. “I’m doing contact tracing.”

That was a response never heard in the year since golf returned from his break due to the pandemic, odd enough to make you wonder if that was the perfect answer to avoid having to stop to sign. And then three days later a memory of that moment came back.

Rahm walked off the 18th green with a six-shot lead and a record 54-hole score. He was approached by two PGA Tour officials and Rahm doubled over in disbelief. After being tested for COVID-19 every day since his arrival, his last one came back positive and he had to withdraw.

Golf started without fans along the Pacific coast before moving to some fans in Florida to a full house of (mostly American) fans at the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were plenty of other memories beyond birdies, bogeys, and bubbles.

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The gold medal meant just as much to Xander Schauffele’s parents. His father had his own Olympic ambitions until a car accident cost him his left eye and caused injuries that forced him to give up as a decathlete. His mother grew up in Japan and her parents still live there.

Stefan Schauffele leaned against a tree and cried as he watched his son on the highest stage as the national anthem played. When it was over, he carried his son’s Olympic credentials. That said more about Xander than it did about the moment.

“My wife wants me to make sure he doesn’t throw this away,” said Stefan Schauffele. “Xander is known for throwing everything away, especially things that mean a lot to her. I promised to get rid of it as soon as possible.’

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Any trip to Torrey Pines is sure to bring back memories of the Junior World Championship, regardless of the golfer’s origin.

David Winkle of Hambric Sports, who is in charge of Dustin Johnson, was 14 when he played in the Junior World in Torrey. He missed the cut, but a friend from Dallas was a top junior and competed, so Winkle kept watching. His friend played the final round with Nathaniel Crosby, whose father was in the stands.

Winkle flipped through his phone and found the photo of him standing next to Bing Crosby, sleek as ever in a red vest.

The photo made the rounds in the US Open media center and one of the younger scribes showed his age. After finally recognizing Winkle with a full head of hair, he asked, “Who’s the man in the sweater?”

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There’s little subtle about Jon Rahm making big putts, but one detail caught his eye when he saw a repeat of his US Open win.

When he makes a big putt, the big Spaniard usually hits the ground with his fist. When he made the 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines, he raised his fist.

“I never hit my fists,” Rahm said months later. “But for some reason I did that time. And I think it’s because right in front of me, on the second floor of the Lodge hotel, it was a Rolex box where I knew part of my family was. So I think I was really celebrating with them at the same time.”

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A week after being forced to withdraw from the Olympics due to a positive COVID-19 test, Bryson DeChambeau said he hadn’t been vaccinated because he was young and would rather make sure people who really needed it had access. Apparently he didn’t know there was no vaccine shortage in the US

When he was criticized, he decided to stop talking to the media. He doubled down on that policy during the BMW Championship when DeChambeau had a chance to shoot 59 in Caves Valley until he missed a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole. He again shut down the media, except he spent all day with a journalist during the third round.

The standard-bearer of his group, the person who walks around with a mobile scoreboard, was Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Caves Valley member. He didn’t say whether DeChambeau knew who Friedman was.

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Kevin Kisner said at the start of the year that there are courses he plays that he knows he has no realistic chance of winning. Then why play? “Because they give away a lot of money for the 20th,” he famously replied.

The PGA Tour’s post-season locations didn’t do him any favors. Both were tall and conditions were mild. Kisner started the FedEx Cup playoffs at number 29 and needed everything to make his way to stay in the top 30 and reach the Tour Championship. It didn’t. He missed the cut in Liberty National and beat no one in Caves Valley, trailing 24 shots.

“The first day my ball stopped at number 10, I knew it was going to be a long week. Top 20 would be as good as I could do here,” he said.

He was reminded that they are giving away a lot of money for the 20th.

“Yeah, they don’t do that before the 70th,” he replied.

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Harry Higgs thought he was done with his media duties after a 67 in the CJ Cup at The Summit in Las Vegas, so when a young girl asked for a souvenir, he happily handed her his cap. But as he was walking up the hill, a tour official informed him that the Golf Channel wanted him for a television interview.

Panic started to set in. The young girl was gone. Higgs looked frantically around and found Rasmus Hojgaard, who was playing with him that day. The Dane is also sponsored by TaylorMade.

“Hey, can I borrow your hat?” said Higgs. “I’m in renegotiation with TaylorMade.”

They don’t have the same hat size, but Higgs managed to squeeze his head into his head and conduct the interview.

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The PGA Tour season reached its final day at East Lake with Patrick Cantlay leading Rahm by two shots. Commissioner Jay Monahan was on the first tee for the final lap as usual, and when the leaders pulled out, he was asked what he hoped to see.

Cantlay had won the BMW Championship with a great rally, which gave him three wins for the season. One was at the Memorial, where Rahm had the six-shot lead and had to pull out due to the positive COVID-19 test.

Monahan thought about this for a minute before saying, “When they’re 15, one time difference.”

Three hours later, Cantlay was on the par-3 15th hole with a score of 20 under par and Rahm was 19 under. Cantlay won the FedEx Cup by one shot.

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Remarkably, Tiger Woods was playing a golf tournament 10 months after his car accident, and everyone wanted to see him. During the first round of the PNC Championship, Ian Poulter and 9-year-old son Joshua, who previously his photo taken with 12-year-old Charlie Woods.

Joshua walked down the second fairway and asked Poulter, “Dad, what’s the age limit to play?”

Poulter was honest as ever. The PNC Championship is limited to players who have won a major or The Players Championship.

“It’s not so much an age limit as what your father has achieved,” Poulter said with a grin. ‘And unfortunately your father has not achieved enough. Unless they start counting Ryder Cups.”

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Hideki Matsuyama was in the mix at the 2015 Phoenix Open when the PGA Tour ordered all questions to go to the interpreter. The first focused on Matsuyama: Who Do You Like in the Super Bowl?

He leaned toward the microphone and replied in English, “Seattle Seahawks.”

That became a running joke over the years, although he would never pick a team.

The question was renewed this month for the now Masters champion. Matsuyama replied in an email this time, through his interpreter, but he made his game.

“You always ask me that question and I always say, ‘I don’t know.’ But this year I’m going for a repeat of Tampa Bay,” he said.

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