Any doubt that the game of golf isn't headed full bore into an epic summer was put to rest over the last seven days. With events happening at every level, plus compelling news outside the ropes, fans were treated to an array of human emotions, from the pure excitement within the college ranks and Monday qualifying for the U.S. Open, to excruciating: two runaway leaders losing their grasp on a trophy for two very different reasons.
Let the first week of June go down as the most remarkable week of golf since COVID-19 shut down The Players last March. Did you miss any of the action? Here's a front-nine list of stories with plenty of links to more details from the top reports. Which storyline was the most surprising to you? Let us know in the comments below:
Redemption for Pepperdine
Redemption was on the minds of the Pepperdine golf team in the NCAA men's finals. Considered the No. 1 team in 2020, their season was cut short due to COVID-19, but this small California school took down Oklahoma in the finals among other Power Conference favorites at Grayhawk Golf Club. WATCH Highlights from the NCAA Finals
Dechambeau-Koepka feud spills over into fan ejections
Fans are back at sporting events and apparently many of them have some pent up desire to act a fool. It spilled over into the galleries of Muirfield Village early in the week when supporters of Brooks Koepka (who was not in the field that week) were heckling his well-known nemesis Bryson DeChambeau with various "Brooksie" calls from off the fairway. Ejections followed, as did a video from Koepka posted to social media that insinuated he had a case of free light beer courtesy of his sponsor waiting for those tossed from Jack's event - a far cry from how Arnold Palmer dealt with his unruly Army when it came to their heckling of Nicklaus early on.
Premier Golf League ramps up courting of game's top stars
Part of the recent Koepka-Dechambeau shenanigans can be attributed in some way to the recent creation of the PGA Tour's "PIP" program - a new algorithm-fueled initiative that rewards a player's media impressions with buckets of money. It was created to help fend off the prospective golf leagues out there trying to lure the tour's top talent. A new report from BBC's Ian Carter on Monday revealed the PGL (not to be confused with the Saudi-backed Super Golf League), is ready to launch in 2023 with 18 events, massive payouts, no cuts and a shotgun start with a five-hour viewing window. On Tuesday the upstart league revealed more details on its website. The PGL has been assembling its pieces for six years now, but have yet to receive a public player commitment. Who, if anyone, will ignore the lifetime ban warning from the PGA Tour and European Tour and be the first to jump to this new league, in a Ryder Cup year no less?
Olympic's ghosts catch Thompson
The U.S. Women's Open coming to the famous Olympic Club in San Francisco brought celebration and great intrigue. But ghosts seem to show up at major championships here and bring down presumptive champions. It was Arnold Palmer losing a seven-shot lead in 1966 on the back nine to Billy Casper, and Hogan faltered improbably to Jack Fleck in 1955. In 2012, the deadly accurate Jim Furyk somehow hooked a tee shot left into the trees on 16, opening the door for Webb Simpson. So on Sunday, even as Lexi Thompson built a five-shot lead on the front nine, there were whispers across the breezy, slippery fairways that no lead was safe, and it wasn't. Thompson shot a 41 on the back nine, the lowest points being a fat pitch shot and some timid putts, and opened the door late to her chasers, Yuka Saso and Nasa Hataoka.
For Thompson, whose sole major came in 2014 at the Dinah Shore, it will go down in the books as yet another Top 10 in a major (her 14th since that Dinah Shore win). Chamblee: Figuring out Lexi's collapse is elusiveHighlights: 2021 U.S. Women's Open, Round 4
Saso's triumph for international golf
Thompson's back-nine stumble aside, the U.S. Women's Open was a triumph for 19-year-old Yuka Saso, who outlasted Nasa Hataoka over three extra holes and tied Inbee Park as the youngest winner in tournament history. It was the first major championship for the nation of the Philippines. Her fluid and gorgeous swing was modeled after Rory McIlroy.
Rahm goes from rout to WD in an instant
The PGA Tour has handled the COVID-19 environment about as well as any league, but a scenario long-feared since last summer's restart finally surfaced: Jon Rahm, leading the event by 8 shots after 54 holes and a stellar 64 in Round 3 at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, was informed walking off the green that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be forced to withdraw and surrender a likely seven-figure payday. Additional reporting determined that had Rahm been fully vaccinated, he would not have been subject to the same contact-tracing protocols and could have finished the tournament. Or as Rex Hoggard writes, the event was a clear reminder that the COVID-19 victory lap will have to wait. Rahm will now self-isolate for 10 days and be eligible to return to action on the Tuesday before the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Just how surreal was Saturday's events? Several sportsbooks like DraftKings and PointsBet announced on Saturday night that they would pay out Jon Rahm bets, a startling precedent to set.
Thrilling Memorial playoff
Nicklaus' tournament was mired early by hecklers, on Saturday by COVID-19 protocols and throughout by deafening cicadas. Thankfully, those fans who gutted it all out were treated to a thrilling Sunday on a challenging, renovated Muirfield Village. How tough was it on Sunday? It's not every day that a player in the final group records a whiff. Cantlay and Morikawa traded putts down the stretch and ultimately needed extra holes to declare a winner in Cantlay.
Emotional breakthrough in Germany
How about a breakthrough win that leads to one of the rawest soundbites in the winner's circle you'll see in 2021? That's what we were treated to as 33-year-old Englishman Marcus Armitage triumphed in Germany on Monday with a 65 in the final round of the Porsche European Open.
Golf's Longest Day
It could be easy to get jaded at some of the above behavior or the money being thrown around at the highest level. But elite golf at its purest happens on "Golf's Longest Day." It's the culmination of the most democratic process to qualify for a major championship. After 2020 when COVID-19 caused the USGA to suspend the qualification process, on Monday, 36-hole qualifiers took place coast-to-coast. Amateurs, journeymen and young stars all competed. Some, like Rickie Fowler, fell short. But a host of golfers now move on to Torrey Pines where a daunting examination awaits and where anything could happen. Among the best stories would have to be Thomas Aiken, whose qualification came after a multi-year journey full of family and COVID-19 setbacks. View the full list of qualifiers here
Best qualifying story in FL: Thomas Aiken.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) June 8, 2021
In 2019: Wife hemorrhaged after delivering 2nd child. 9-hour op, 11 blood transfusions
Later: Dorian destroyed their home.
Then: Played once in 11 months b/c of COVID
"Just have to live the best you can," he said, somehow smiling.