The mystique still seems to linger above the 18th green on the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club, an aura that can make the hairs on your arm stand up when you consider what Jon Rahm was facing.
On a Sunday evening in August 2020, in a playoff in the second event of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, Rahm was facing plenty of pressure. He had been on the Olympia Fields driving range just minutes earlier when Dustin Johnson drained a preposterous 45-foot reverse-S birdie putt at 18 to force a playoff.
And then, back on that same green, with the flag tucked into the front right corner, Rahm was studying a long, downhill birdie putt with a wicked left-to-right break and a drop like the American Eagle’s at Six Flags Great America.
The PGA Tour’s analytics operation gave Rahm a 1.7% chance of making it. “One of the hardest putts you could ever imagine,” commentator Paul Azinger said on the NBC broadcast.
Rahm, though, worked to simplify it. Find an ideal line, he told himself. Then just get it started.
He did both. And when his putter made contact, a 66-foot, 5-inch voyage began that took 10.75 seconds before the ball dropped into the cup.
No. Freaking. Way.
It was the exclamation point on Rahm’s day that included a final-round 64 and propelled him to the winner’s circle at the BMW Championship. Pure magic, really.
Stare at that 18th green for a minute or two and it’s as if you can still see that landmark putt crawling, twisting, then accelerating toward the hole. It feels like a stage ready for more theater.
The BMW Championship returns to Olympia Fields next week where Rahm’s thrilling moment from 2020 remains encapsulated. There are photos hung inside the clubhouse. The Sunday pin placement at 18 will likely be in an identical “Can you top that?” location. The energy for another thrilling tournament has been building.
This time — unlike in 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were stringent — there will be thousands of spectators on hand for the fireworks. It promises to be a show with the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings in the field and only 30 able to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta the following week.
The star power is undeniable, including three of this year’s major champions — Rahm, Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman — plus Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth.
It’s feasible Nick Hardy, the 27-year-old Northbrook native and former University of Illinois star, could also crack the field. Heading into the FedEx St. Jude Championship, Hardy ranked 50th in the cup point standings and continued to dream about reaching the next stage where he could play in front of a large gathering of family and friends on a challenging course he is all too familiar with. Twice during his college career, Hardy finished in the top 5 at the Fighting Illini Invitational on the North Course at Olympia Fields.
“You can’t really fake it around there,” Hardy said last month. “You have to play really strong from tee to green. It requires a great all-around game.”
In his second year full-time on the PGA Tour, Hardy has shown his all-around ability. He has made 19 cuts in 19 events, finished in the top 25 eight times and made more than $2.5 million. Oh, and in April he teamed with Davis Riley to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a poise-testing and validating experience with final-round pressure he called “super nerve-wracking.”
“The whole weekend I was really nervous,” Hardy said. “As a team event, it was a lot different than something you normally do. I didn’t want to let Davis down as much as I wanted to play well and have a chance to win (myself).”
Now Hardy is pushing to join a talent-packed field on a demanding Olympia Fields course for the BMW Championship.
This will be the seventh time Olympia Fields has hosted the event — formerly known as the Western Open. It also comes 20 years after the venue held the U.S. Open with Jim Furyk notching a three-shot triumph.
The course has provided a number of memorable high-profile moments. And while it may be difficult to match the drama of 2020, the mystique still lingering near that 18th green and spreading across the course feels alluring.