SAN DIEGO — Jon Rahm was thunderstruck by the positive coronavirus test result that forced his June 5 withdrawal from the Memorial Tournament, a competition Rahm led by an almost insurmountable six strokes with only one round remaining. But afterward, he recognized the emotions that his exit, which included a nationally televised broadcast of Rahm receiving the news and leaving the 18th green in tears, elicited.
“I was aware of what was going on,” Rahm said in his first public remarks about the situation on Tuesday as he prepared for the 2021 U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at the Torrey Pines Golf Course. “And to all the people criticizing the PGA Tour, they shouldn’t. We are in a pandemic, and even though this virus has very different forms of attacking people, you never know what reaction you’re going to get. So the PGA Tour did what they had to do.”
He added: “I’ve heard a lot of different theories — that I should have played alone. But I shouldn’t have, that’s nonsense. The rules are there, and it’s clear. I was fully aware when I was in tracing protocol that that was a possibility. I knew that could happen. I was hoping it wouldn’t, but I support what the PGA Tour did.”
Speaking at a news conference, Rahm, 26, revealed that he had been vaccinated before he tested positive.
“The truth is I was vaccinated, I just wasn’t out of that 14-day period,” Rahm said, referring to the two-week period it typically takes for the body to build a strong immune response to the virus after receiving the final dose of the vaccine. “I had started the process, and unfortunately, that’s how the timing ended up being.”
Rahm continued, “Looking back on it, I guess I wish I would have done it earlier, but thinking on scheduling purposes and having the P.G.A. and defending the Memorial, to be honest, it wasn’t in my mind. If I had done it in a few days earlier, probably we wouldn’t be having these conversations right now.”
The amiable Rahm, alternately smiling and serious, did not ask for sympathy, but he had a message for his professional golf colleagues, who a tour official said earlier this month had been vaccinated at a rate “north of 50 percent.”
“We live in a free country, so do as you please,” Rahm said. “I can tell you from experience that if something happens, you’re going to have to live with the consequences golf wise.”
Had Rahm been able to complete the final round of the Memorial, which he had won in 2020, he almost certainly would have been handed the winner’s check worth roughly $1.7 million. In Rahm’s absence, Patrick Cantlay claimed it instead.
“I know if you’re younger, you run less of a risk of having big problems from Covid,” Rahm said. “But truthfully we don’t know the long-term effects of this virus, so I would encourage people to actually get it done.”
Since some of the public outcry about what happened to Rahm centered around the way he was informed of his positive test — he was stopped as he came off the green with TV cameras close by and thousands of spectators watching — he was asked on Tuesday if he was upset by the way tour officials gave him the news.
“It could have been handled better,” he conceded with a wide grin. “I’m not going to lie, that’s the second time I get put on the spot on national TV on the same golf course on the same hole.”
At the 2020 Memorial, Rahm celebrated his victory on the 18th green of the Ohio course. Then, as he was conducting a television interview, he was informed that he had been penalized two strokes for causing his ball to move slightly near the 16th green. Rahm still won by three strokes.
One of the mysteries of Rahm’s sorrowful scene alongside the 18th hole this year was when he said, “Not again,” after he received the news. It turns out that it was a reference to last year’s ending.
“For all those people wondering when I said, ‘Not again,’ that’s exactly what I mean — not again,” Rahm said on Tuesday. “Last year I put my heart out talking about one of my family members passing, and I get told, ‘Well, go sign your scorecard with a penalty stroke — with no warning.’
“Then this year I put arguably the best performance of my life, and I get told again on live TV, ‘Hey, you’re not playing tomorrow.’ So it could have been handled a little bit better, yeah, but it still doesn’t change the fact of what really happened. Because it was the second time I got put on the spot on the same course. I was a little bit more hurt, but yeah, again, it’s tough.”
At the same time, Rahm admitted there were probably other considerations being weighed by PGA Tour leaders as they decided how and when to tell him of the positive coronavirus test.
“They don’t want me to go by and start shaking all the patrons’ hands and high-fiving and all that, so I understand that as well,” Rahm said.
One of the more popular men’s golfers — a player who shows his emotions and competes with zesty flair — Rahm was already looking ahead to this week’s competition. He said repeatedly that he had moved on from the withdrawal.
“It happened, that’s life,” Rahm said. “Luckily, everybody in my family and myself are OK. Luckily, I didn’t really have any symptoms, and within what happened, this is the best-case scenario.”