Rory McIlroy‘s swing double and Jon Rahm’s untimely positive Covid test feature in AFP Sport’s golf talking points this week:
– Swinging double –
Hours studying Rory McIlroy’s swing paid off for Yuka Saso when she became the Philippines’ first major-winner at the age of just 19 on Sunday.
Saso, whose surprise victory was warmly welcomed in Asia, models her game on McIlroy, poring over YouTube and TV footage of the Northern Irishman.
The results are striking: a swing that is eerily similar to the four-time major champion’s, and a dramatic play-off victory in the US Women’s Open on Sunday.
Side-by-side footage of the two reveals a carbon-copy action and, in her victory speech, Saso thanked McIlroy for spurring her on.
“Rory mentioned me on Instagram and said, ‘Get that trophy.’ And I did! So thank you, Rory,” she said, after edging the play-off against Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.
At 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, Saso tied Park In-bee — to the exact day — as the tournament’s youngest winner, in just her seventh start on the LPGA Tour.
Saso, who is half-Japanese and plies her trade on the Japan LPGA Tour, also won individual and team gold for the Philippines at the 2018 Asian Games.
– ‘Brave’ Osaka –
Michelle Wie West offered words of support to Naomi Osaka following the tennis superstar’s much-debated withdrawal from the French Open after flagging concerns over her mental health.
Wie West, a former prodigy who turned professional at 16, said she too felt anxious talking to the media, an experience that Osaka said was like “kicking people when they’re down”.
“My lows have definitely been well documented throughout the years, and there’s a lot of tough times,” Wie said at the US Women’s Open.
“I thought what Naomi did this past week was incredibly brave.”
Wie West joins several other athletes, including Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, in applauding the four-time major winner.
“I’m really proud of athletes taking charge of their mental health and making it a priority,” Wie West said.
“I do get anxiety talking to media, because I know it’s the same questions every week.”
– Rahm’s Covid sickener –
A hole-in-one heralded a birdie blitz for Jon Rahm, but his six-shot lead at the US PGA Memorial was mercilessly undone by a brush with Covid.
The 26-year-old Spaniard had his head in his hands when he came off the 18th green at Muirfield Village and was told he was out of the tournament over a positive test.
“I’m very disappointed in having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament,” Rahm said later, in a statement posted on Twitter.
“This is one of those things that happens in life, one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people.”
The test result couldn’t have come at a worse time for the world number three, who had played scintillating golf on Saturday to put one hand on the trophy.
Rahm’s ace — the third of his PGA Tour career — came at the par-three 16th as he completed his second round, which was halted by darkness on Friday.
He went on to fire an eight-under-par 64 in the third round for 18-under 198, matching Tiger Woods’s 2000 tournament record for the biggest lead through 54 holes.
“My heart, it just sinks for him,” said American Scottie Scheffler, who played alongside Rahm and Patrick Cantlay, the eventual winner, in the third round.
“I just feel awful.”
Rahm, who was asymptomatic, had been playing under tighter virus protocols including daily testing after coming into close contact with a Covid-19 case.
He tested negative for four consecutive days, only to return a positive test from a sample collected on Saturday morning.
– World rankings –
Latest leading world rankings, week beginning June 7, 2021
1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 10.04
2. Justin Thomas (USA) 8.25
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.05
4. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.39 (+2)
5. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 6.97 (-1)
6. Xander Schauffele (USA) 6.87 (-1)
7. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.44 (+8)
8. Brooks Koepka (USA) 6.17 (-1)
9. Patrick Reed (USA) 6.15
10. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 5.93 (-2)
1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 9.38
2. Park In-bee (KOR) 8.86
3. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 7.88
4. Nelly Korda (USA) 7.36
5. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 6.41
6. Danielle Kang (USA) 5.96
7. Lexi Thompson (USA) 5.90 (+2)
8. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 5.61 (-1)
9. Yuka Saso (PHI) 5.52 (+31)
10. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 5.41 (+3)