DUBLIN, OHIO — Jon Rahm, a popular player on the PGA Tour and the world’s third-ranked male golfer, had just charged to a six-stroke lead on Saturday in the third round of the Memorial Tournament, an event he won a year ago. Walking from the 18th hole, where a crowd surrounding the green showered him with warm applause, Rahm, 26, shook hands with his playing partners and smiled.
Seconds later, he was doubled over and in tears, his left hand clasping his face. A doctor for the tour had met Rahm at the edge of the green and informed him that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, a result reported to the tour as Rahm was shooting a sparkling eight-under-par 64 on the difficult course at the Muirfield Village Golf Club. Rahm would be forced to withdraw from the tournament and miss the final round on Sunday.
Rahm hid his face in his hands for a few moments, then stood upright before staggering as he began to ascend a steep hill, wiping his eyes as he made his way to the adjacent clubhouse.
“Not again,” he said, although it was unclear what his response meant. It was also unknown whether Rahm has been fully vaccinated, although for the past year he had frequently talked at length about his worries for the health of his family back in his native Spain and about the devastation the virus had brought to communities near his hometown. Rahm currently lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Kelley, whom he met while they were students at Arizona State, and their 2-month-old son, Kepa Cahill.
Late on Saturday night, Rahm posted a statement on Twitter, saying that he was “very disappointed in having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament. 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. I’m very thankful that my family and I are all OK. I will take all of the necessary precautions to be safe and healthy, and I look forward to returning to the golf course as soon as possible.”
Jack Nicklaus, the host of the Memorial tournament and the designer of the golf course, wrote on his Twitter feed shortly after the third round: “Our hearts go out to Jon and his family as well as all the patrons who witnessed a spectacular round by Jon — only to be negated by this horrible pandemic our world continues to endure.”
Nicklaus, who is 81 and contracted Covid-19 along with his wife, Barbara, in 2020, added: “I wish Jon a speedy recovery and hope he gets back to competition soon.”
According to the PGA Tour, Rahm was notified on Monday that he would be subject to contact tracing because he had come in close contact with an unidentified person who had tested positive for the virus. Tour protocols permitted Rahm to remain in the tournament if he agreed to be tested every day and avoided using indoor facilities at the event.
Rahm’s test results were negative for four days, but his most recent test, performed on Saturday morning, came back positive at 4:20 p.m. A second test on the original sample provided by Rahm, who is asymptomatic, yielded a positive result at 6:05 p.m., just before he finished his third round.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation, obviously,” Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration, said. “The protocol that we have had in place for the last 50 events is being followed to the letter, and unfortunately we are in a situation where we are this evening.”
Levinson was asked if there was an option that would allow Rahm to play Sunday’s final round by himself if he stayed at least six feet from others in what is a large outdoor area. Levinson said the tour’s medical advisers did not recommend participation in a competition the day after a confirmed positive test.
Patrick Cantlay, who played with Rahm on Saturday and who became the new tournament leader along with Collin Morikawa, seemed stunned by the news at a Saturday evening news conference.
“I’m sure it’s not as much of a jolt for me as it is for him,” Cantlay said. “It’s the worse situation that something like this could happen in, and unfortunately I guess we knew that this was a potential lurking out there even when we came back to golf. It’s just extremely unfortunate.”
Cantlay said that he had Covid earlier this year and that he had not been vaccinated. The tour shut down for three months after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March 2020.
Rahm, who has won five PGA Tour events, is required to isolate for 10 days unless he tests negative in two further virus screenings 24 hours apart. Levinson did not disclose whether Rahm had received the Covid-19 vaccine; after recent revisions, tour guidelines no longer require weekly testing for players who are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated players would also not be subject to the contact tracing that Rahm underwent this week. Levinson said that the tour had tracked vaccinations among players and that more than 50 percent of its more than 200 players had been fully vaccinated.
Levinson was also asked why Rahm was notified in such a public setting by the tour’s medical chief, Dr. Tom Hospel, rather than in a private room, away from television cameras and a crowd of thousands. Levinson replied that it was “difficult to find an ideal opportunity to notify him.” He added: “But our medical adviser notified him before he went into scoring, and that was how it was conducted.”
Scottie Scheffler, who is now tied for third place, three strokes behind Cantlay and Morikawa, was one of the first players to see Rahm as he entered the scoring tent just after the end of his round. Scheffler knew that Rahm, who had a hole in one on No. 16 in the second round, was leading, and he was confused by the distress on Rahm’s face.
“I kind of smiled at him thinking: ‘Why? What happened?’” Scheffler said. “He just goes, ‘Good luck tomorrow.’”
Scheffler wished Rahm good luck in the final round as well. Rahm told him he had just failed a coronavirus test.
“My heart just sank, it’s terrible that that happened,” said Scheffler, who has also had Covid. “My heart is still — it just sinks for him and I feel awful.”