Jon Rahm had a one-stroke lead after 54 holes at the Players Championship, but his attempt to close what would have been the biggest event of his career did not go well.
Rahm bogeyed three of the first four holes at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course and turned in one-over 37. But he parred the 10th and, with others slumping as well, was still tied for the lead and with plenty of opportunities ahead.
Then came the par-5 11th and his whole tournament changed. Rahm found the left fairway bunker off the tee, which put several trees — and water, of course — in his way.
Rahm’s caddie, Adam Hayes, was trying to talk him into pitching it out to the fairway right, which would have left just a wedge in and still a chance of birdie. Rahm disagreed. He wanted to get near the green, which would have required a sweeping hooked eight-iron from 220 yards (from the sand) against left-to-right wind with water and sand to clear.
“I’m gonna get you flat over here,” Hayes said, pointing over to the fairway. “You’ll have a flat lie, you’ll have 100—”
“The problem is,” Rahm started, “I’m not confident hitting that shot. If you hit it too far down there you’ll have a very tough angle.” Rahm also thought his lie in the sand was better going farther left (the shot he wanted to take) instead of aiming farther right to pitch out.
Hayes faintly shook his head and pursed his lips. “Ok, yep,” he said.
Rahm dug in, swung mightily and rinsed his ball in the water. It wasn’t close and led to a bogey. The NBC microphones picked up his disgust. “I was so f—— sure the first time,” Rahm said.
A pivotal moment @THEPLAYERSChamp.
This conversation between Jon Rahm and his caddie.
He was leading at the time. pic.twitter.com/hWQGNwcu9Z
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 18, 2019
“If I hit the green, great — I was going anywhere left that was grass or sand,” Rahm told reporters afterward. “So there was a big amount of land to hit there.
“Adam was trying to convince me to go right, and when I first got to the ball I was really sure I could do it. I mean if you give me 10 balls besides that one I’ll hit the other one on land. But unfortunately I got a little bit of doubt in me.”
The Golf Channel crew broke it down afterward. David Duval said he “couldn’t wrap my head around [the decision].” Brandel Chamblee added: “I think this will go down in history as the most baffling decision ever struck here at this event.”
Rahm bounced back with a birdie on 13, but a bogey on 15 and double on 17 led to a three-over back nine. He shot 76 and tied for 12th at 11 under, five behind Rory McIlroy.