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Rahm rolls

British Open 2023: Scenes from a record round and an electric Jon Rahm charge

July 22, 2023

Keyur Khamar

HOYLAKE, England — With Brian Harman leading by five shots and the atmospheric energy flagging on a misty Saturday afternoon, the Open Championship badly needed a jolt. Lucky for all, the universe delivered in the form of Jon Rahm, who spent his third round like a mad doctor on the loose with a pair of live defibrillators, striding from hole to hole and shocking the tournament back to life. By the time he poured in his final birdie on 18, he had set a Hoylake Open record with a 63, surged up the leaderboard to six under, and lit a fire under a major championship that now looks very, very exciting. The 151st Open Championship has been rudely, and magnificently, roused from its slumber.

Rahm is possessed of that intangible quality called "presence," and the marvel of it is that it works from a distance. In the media center during his back nine, the series of red numbers next to his name on the massive scoreboard, coupled with the infrequent clips on the screen, were enough to make you sit up straighter, open your eyes a little wider. He closed the front nine with a two-under 33—solid, but still modest—but then proceeded to birdie 10, 11 and 12, moving to three under and provoking, if nothing else, a stirring in the collective mind. There was no choice then but to hit the course, to find him, to connect. And there, on the 15th green, beneath gray skies and an intermittent, slanting rain, you saw the second, physical manifestation of that presence: Rahm stands 6-foot-2, but he looks so much bigger. There's a sturdy wideness to him, from legs to the sculpted beard, that communicates strength, yes, but also a driving energy that differentiates him from the slow, loping class big men like Ernie Els or Dustin Johnson. Rahm doesn't walk; he marches. Rahm doesn't stand; he glowers.

Call it coloring history with hindsight, but at that point he felt inevitable, his momentum unstoppable. The eight-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th fell. The 33-footer for birdie on 16 fell—one of those moments that confirms the tidal shift you've sensed. In a camouflage pattern blue shirt, light gray pants, white hat, white shoes, white glove, he held his pose on the tees, stared down the approaches, and walked far ahead of Sungjae Im as his campaign unfolded. On 17, after his tee shot on the gorgeous Welsh panorama in the distance, a great clamor rose from the stands as the fans clambered to see the result. Again, on 18, the children lined up on the first row of the grandstand hoping to catch a tossed ball. He drew them in and kept them. The 21-footer on 17 narrowly missed, but with 11 feet between him and six under on 18, a score that would put him in solo second for the moment, he was once again existing in a place just beyond doubt. The putt fell, the Britons hollered.


"Vamo Johnny!"


And he marched on, past the wheat-colored grass they call Yorkshire Fog, past the dandelions and bluebells and fireweed, until the job was done.

In front of the gathered English and Spanish media afterward, he switched between the two languages, and fielded the questions genially aside from an extra hard stare or a brief smirk at those he didn't particularly like. There is part of him that is always just a little confrontational; he can't help it.

Why do you think you were able to stay more patient out there today?

RAHM: I think I'm a lot more patient than most people believe I am, to be honest.

Did you do anything differently?

RAHM: No. What should I do? What else do I need to do?

When asked about his annoyance with the Netflix film crew following Rory a day earlier, he retorted before the questioner had finished that "Rory has nothing to do with it," but added, "I can tell you right now I wasn't the only one thinking that."

And when a reporter tried to curry a little favor by informing him that Seve, that ur-Spanish legend, had never shot 63 at the Open, he had no time for the praise, and his smile was the smile of someone sniffing out an act of deception.

"I'd rather win three times and never shoot 63," he said. "I hope that answers your question."

Despite that underlying tension, he seemed mostly at his ease and in good humor. Which was easy for him to do, after how he'd just redefined the tournament. The moment had been fully seized, and it did not feel like accidental timing, or an inadvertent tie to the big picture Rahm had just entered, that as he marched across the bridge from the 18th green to the scoring tent, and the cheers rose from the fans just noticing him below, a distant voice could be heard from the public address system on the first hole:

"Now on the tee, from the USA ... Brian Harman."

• • •

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.