It’s one of the great putts in golf history — 66 feet, 30-foot break, 1.7% chance of success — and only a few dozen people saw it happen in person.
Three years ago at the BMW Championship, Jon Rahm stood over a birdie putt on the first playoff hole. He had just seen Dustin Johnson holed a 43-foot putt on the final hole in regulation to force a playoff. Rahm started the ball rolling, and 66 feet later… perfection.
What’s fascinating about watching that putt now isn’t just Rahm’s flatstick brilliance. He was already one of the best players in the world at the time, ranked No. 2 to Johnson. This is what is happening – or more accurately, what is not happening – in the gallery behind him.
The 2020 BMW Championship was held the week of August 30, which, as you may recall, was well within the blast radius of pandemic-inspired lockdowns. The few fans gathered in the gallery behind Rahm are all wearing masks, though most are socially distanced and all are obviously outside.
Do you remember those days? Remember the cutouts and stuffed animals in the stands at baseball games and computer-generated fans in the stands at football games? Remember the NBA bubble where every game looked like it took place inside a video game? Yes, we have also tried to block it all.
Golf bounced back faster than most sports — the first post-lockdown tournament started in mid-June — largely because golf doesn’t require a whole lot of intimate, breathing-the-same-air contact. By the time of the FedExCup playoffs in late August, a few scattered fans — along with tournament workers and mostly media — began trickling onto the field, and those are the ones visible behind Rahm.
“It’s obviously a very different week,” Rahm said ahead of the 2023 edition of the tournament. “We don’t have COVID rules. Everyone is here and we don’t have those Zoom media calls.”
The strangeness continued throughout the rest of 2020, as you well remember. The 2020 Masters, in which Rahm finished T7, was a once-in-a-lifetime (let’s hope) anomaly — a Masters in November rather than April. There, Rahm noted how strange it is to hear patrons digging into bags of Masters-branded chips 150 meters away.
At the time of his miraculous putt, Rahm still hadn’t won his first major; he has since won a US Open (2021) and a Masters (2023). The 2020 BMW Championship ranks as the fourth best tournament of his career, from a world ranking list, but he notes that something is missing from it because of the emptiness. When asked to rank that putt among all his shots, he was candid:
“I think if there were crowds and I made that putt, it would probably be a unanimous No. 1, but because there was no one there and there was really no reaction other than my … it’s kind of dull because of what you’re used to. seeing when you make a good putt in a moment like the US Open,” he said. “It wouldn’t be No. 1, but it’s definitely top three.”
The world outside the ropes has returned to something approaching normal, although golf as a sport is now undergoing a total upheaval. Back in 2020, “LIV” was just the track at the most recent Super Bowl. Now, the golf world is spiraling into chaos … but at least we can see it in person together.