Spaniard Jon Rahm is looking down on the rest of the golfing world from his lofty new position as World Numero Uno, which he attained by winning Jack’s tournament, the Memorial, at Muirfield Village last Sunday. His pedigree is not in question. He is a former amateur world No 1, a position he held for a record-breaking 60 weeks and in the four short years since turning professional he has won ten times, four of those victories coming on the PGA Tour and six on the European Tour.
It still beats me though as to how a player can be world No 1 without a major title to his name. Rahm has only one top-three finish in the majors and a sprinkling of top tens. He’s 26 years of age, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until he wins one of the big ones – but how on earth is he deemed to be the best there is at this precise moment? Answers on a postcard please………or am I missing something here?Still, it’s welcome news for Spain, as we hear of the likelihood of a second lockdown in the Barcelona area and this very strange golfing season limps on in unfamiliar fashion. For all professional sportsmen and women back plying their trade it must be surreal playing without spectators present and I can’t help but think that some may be more affected than others. Take Rory McIlroy, for instance. He’s been a little lacklustre since the restart and his customary jauntiness and joie de vivre is, if not entirely absent, definitely subdued. It is unlikely he has played in any tournament without a sizeable gallery since he was about 15 or 16 years of age.
The energy and reactions of those watching provide the oxygen that enables these mercurial talents to access the rarefied air in which unbelievable performance levels reside. Without this catalyst a player needs a new skill, not the accustomed one of controlling the rivers of adrenalin flowing through their bodies, but rather one that is more of a self-starting nature – how do you wilfully flood your system with the endorphins and all those goodies that are pivotal to producing your best when there is no gallery to carry you there? Top performance coaches and mind gurus such as Bob Rotella, Karl Morris et al may find themselves in even greater demand than normal, albeit with a slightly different agenda.Followers of this blog will be aware of how fond Patricia and I are of Muirfield Village. In 2009 we were guests of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus when Patricia’s husband Dai was posthumously nominated as one of the journalistic honorees of that year’s tournament. Even as we were living through it we knew it was a week we would never forget…and so it has proved. It was made all the more special by the fact that we had previously visited Muirfield Village in 1998 when it was the host venue for the Solheim Cup, on this occasion with both our parents and some very special, close friends.
That was unusual because Mum was totally phobic about flying and only took to the air on a handful of occasions during her long life. We knocked her out with a good strong charge of Jameson whiskey on the way over the Atlantic, but her system was wise to that trick on the way home. It was only down to her careful monitoring of every engine change and her superhuman willpower that we managed to stay airborne until arriving safely back home. Cars and ferries were much more her cup of tea. It was Mum and Dad’s only trip to the US and when I asked Dad once if he regretted missing out on some great jaunts because of Mum’s fear of flying, he replied matter-of-factly: “No – it’s the only thing that’s kept me solvent!”
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the players wearing yellow ribbons in their caps on Sunday at the Memorial. This was in support of a new charity launched by the Nicklauses last year, the “Play Yellow” campaign. A joint venture with the PGA and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the aim is to raise $100 million in five years for pediatric care not covered by insurance programmes. The “Yellow” part of the title has been important to Jack for the last 50 years or so, but the reason is not widely known.
Back in 1968 Jack had an ardent fan, 10-year old Craig Smith, the son of family friends. Craig was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer which took his life when he was 13 and Jack spoke with his young fan as often as he could. After one of his victories Craig told Jack he knew he’d win that day as he was wearing yellow, his favourite – and lucky – colour. That’s why so much of the archive of Jack shows him in yellow – it’s for Craig, never forgotten.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed last week’s Open for the Ages and watching Jack outlast Tiger Woods round the Old Course. So what if it was a little predictable that it should come down to being between those two? The icing on the cake was when Nicklaus tweeted out a picture of himself with his feet up watching the denouement unfold on the final green on the screen in front of him. He asked: “Did I just win a 19th major without leaving my couch?”
Yes, you really did, Jack. So that’s now 19 major titles and 19 second places. Tidy.