By V1 Game engineer Dallas Webster
Fingers Crossed, Don’t Lose by One
Jon Rahm nearly had to spend the week kicking himself over a mental error that is rare, especially for a tour pro. Early in the third round of the BMW Championship at Chicago’s Olympia Fields Country Club, Jon Rahm forgot to mark his ball on the green before picking it up to clean it, incurring a one-shot penalty. He realized his mistake immediately and called in a rules official to properly assess the situation. After the round, he was proud of himself for bouncing back and staying focused to post a 66. Rahm played his way into contention, but almost foreshadowed Sunday afternoon when he said he would be kicking himself if he lost by one.
Fast forward to late Sunday. Jon Rahm hit 17 of 18 greens on his way to an outstanding final-round 64, the best round on the course. Rahm stayed warm and waited on the range for Dustin Johnson to finish. Johnson needed a miraculous birdie on the final hole to force a playoff and found himself in the rough 180 yards away. From this position, an average PGA TOUR pro will take approximately 3.3 strokes to get down. DJ needed to do it in just 2. He hit a fantastic shot from the rough to 44 feet and then sank the putt to do just that, gaining 1.3 strokes for those two shots and forcing the playoff.
In the playoff, both players found themselves on the green in regulation. However, the advantage went to Johnson who had just 33 feet remaining, compared to Rahm’s 66 feet. A PGA TOUR pro makes a 66-footer less than four percent of the time. More than 12 feet of break down a steep slope made Rahm’s putt even more of a long shot. Rahm was more focused on a manageable come-backer to stay alive in the playoff. Instead, he hit a perfect putt that tracked down the hill and hit the flagstick dead center as it dropped for birdie. This added 66 feet of putts to the 103 he made in regulation (seen on the above scorecard). Interestingly enough, it was the first putt of over 50 feet that Rahm faced all week. Looking at the Putting by Distance plot from V1 Game, we can see that Jon Rahm putted beautifully all week with just a single three-putt. He gained strokes from all distance buckets inside 20 feet, but we also see that he did not have a putt over 50 feet in regulation. He gained 1.3 strokes on the average tour pro with his heroic playoff putt.
Alright, rewind to the forgotten marker debacle. This is the second time this season that Rahm has put me in a difficult position when tracking his rounds. In his win at the Memorial, he had a shot on the 16th hole in which he inadvertently moved his ball before chipping it in. It was difficult to determine whether the penalty strokes for his mental blunder should be applied to his chip or to the approach shot that put him in the heavy rough. Unfortunately, the PGA Tour and V1 Game do not currently have a ‘Strokes Gained Mental’ category for this situation. In a similar blunder, forgetting to mark his ball on the fifth hole on Saturday, resulted in a one-shot penalty. Technically a mental error, this one got added to Strokes Gained Putting for the purposes of tracking. Still, Rahm gained 1.7 strokes putting on the day.
Diving into Rahm’s performance on the week, we find that Rahm improved day-by-day throughout the tournament.
Using V1 Game’s new Virtual Coach to analyze his performance for Strokes Gained gives us several insights:
- His best round was his final round, gaining 7.3 total strokes with a 64.
- His worst round was his first round, losing 3.8 strokes, total, with a 75.
- Rahm was most inconsistent with his putting, losing 1.9 strokes at his worst and gaining 2.2 strokes at his best.
- His worst strokes gained area on average is Approach.
- He was most consistent gaining strokes with his driving.
Rahm gained strokes with his driving in three of the four rounds, despite only averaging 8.2 Fairways. This is largely due to his distance, as he hit many drives over 340 yards. He averaged 304 yards per tee shot on the week and favored the left hand side with his misses. All this can be easily seen at a glance from his Analysis profile in V1 Game.
The trendline for Strokes Gained Total shows Rahm peaking at the right time. Winning this week, vaults Rahm up to the number-two spot going into next week’s Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club. He secured critical points toward winning the FedEx Cup. This week, the main takeaway is resilience. Several times, Rahm could have been frustrated and lost his focus. He could have cratered after his mental blunder on the green, or when Johnson dropped a bomb on him on the last hole of regulation, or when he found himself out of position in the playoff. Instead, Rahm stayed persistent and spared himself the torture of losing the tournament over a forgotten marker.