Today, in early summer of 2021, with vaccination rates climbing, new case counts falling, and limitation measures like masking mandates being lifted, it’s easy to believe that if the American front of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet totally over, then it is at least entering its final stages. But if anyone needed a helpful and thankfully non-tragic reminder that “almost over” does not mean “over,” and that this world-historically strange and cruel and stupid time of ours still has some completely bizarre twists in store, the PGA Tour provided us a great one on Saturday.
Spanish golfer Jon Rahm walked off the 18th hole at the Memorial Tournament on Saturday in a state of triumph. He’d just completed an eight-under third round, which gave him a commanding six-stroke lead heading into the tournament’s final day. Yet after taking only a few paces off the green, Rahm was stopped by a tournament official and informed that he had tested positive for COVID-19, which would result in his automatic withdrawal. Receiving the news was predictably devastating:
The “not again” you hear from Rahm in the clip above is referring to 2020’s edition of this same tournament, when the golfer was once again stunned by a piece of news he received right after finishing a round. That time, it was a reporter telling Rahm at the end of a post-round interview that he’d been handed a two-stroke penalty for a shot earlier, when his ball slightly moved as he approached it with his club. Rahm was visibly surprised to learn about the penalty in an interview, but it didn’t ultimately matter: even with the strokes docked from his just-completed final round, Rahm was ahead by enough to still win the tournament.
The 2020 Memorial scenario was weird enough, but it doesn’t even compare to Saturday’s incident. Viewers at home were surely as baffled as Jim Nantz was on the broadcast when cameras showed Rahm receiving clearly bad news mere seconds after wrapping up his great round:
Shortly after the official announcement of what had happened, the PGA Tour explained itself. On the Monday before the tournament started, the tour learned as part of its contract tracing protocol that Rahm had had close contact with a person who had recently tested positive for COVID. Rahm was allowed to stay in the tournament as long as he consented to daily testing and to having limited access to the tournament’s indoor facilities. He agreed, and until Saturday he had tested negative every day. However, a test he’d taken on Friday returned a positive result on Saturday, during the middle of his round. The tour’s medical team retested Rahm’s sample to make sure it wasn’t a false positive, and when it returned positive again shortly before the end of his round, the tournament let Rahm finish before breaking the news. After some initial confusion about Rahm’s vaccination status, golf writer Jason Sobel reported that Rahm was administered his first COVID-19 vaccine this past week, after learning of his close contact with the infected person.
Naturally, it took only seconds for The Discourse to take all of this—the PGA Tour, Rahm, the incredibly odd and extremely 2021 scenario at hand, the culture of golf itself—and to ball it up and shove down the bores of the culture warriors’ cannons. Was the PGA Tour bad for not mandating vaccination of its players, and was it bad for letting Rahm continue with his round, potentially exposing others, even after knowing he’d tested positive? Or was the tour bad for genuflecting to the SJWs by ruining a likely title-winning run of a young, healthy, as-of-now non-symptomatic 26-year-old athlete? Is Rahm an anti-vax nutjob and a bad person for not coming into the tournament fully vaccinated, or are the real villains the self-righteous social media users slamming Rahm online for exercising his personal autonomy? Is golf itself an irredeemable cesspool of Trump-supporting loons, or is it the last bastion of free thinking in America?
The culture war angles are exhausting, and it’s telling that whether you’re a diehard golf fan or if you’ve just learned of the name Jon Rahm within the past 24 hours, you probably already knew exactly where you fell on all sides of the broader controversy immediately after hearing about it. Which itself is probably the best summary of our present moment. Here we are looking at something we’ve never seen before, an athlete on the cusp of victory whose dream was snatched away from him in agonizing, surreal fashion on live TV, because of a disease he could not feel but has brought the entire world to its knees for more than a year now, and all anyone wants to talk about is the exact same boring stuff as always.