They set up TPC Louisiana’s 16th as a drivable, 306-yard par-4 Sunday, a hole designed to inject nerve-jangling drama into the closing act of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
But with a three-stroke lead in hand, Jon Rahm found a 7-iron in his hands instead of the driver he wanted to hit.
“I’m going to go ahead and say I was held up by three people,” Rahm said, “because all I had in my mind was driver.”
The three wise men wielding their veto power: Rahm’s playing partner Ryan Palmer and their two caddies.
“I wouldn’t let him” hit it, Palmer said.
So, Rahm dutifully piped a 176-yard 7-iron down the fairway. Standing behind his talented young teammate, Palmer smiled, the smile of a man who knew he was minutes away from ending his nine-year PGA Tour winning drought.
That moment typified what ultimately made a win by this unlikely autumn-spring pairing of the 42-year old Palmer and the 24-year old Rahm as inevitable as death and taxes. Rahm’s brash young can’t-miss talent proved a perfect compliment to the steady, law partner-like counsel of the affable Palmer.
Apologies to their former Zurich Classic partners, Jordan Spieth, who skipped the Zurich after teaming with fellow Texan Palmer the past two years and Wesley Bryan, who played here with Rahm last year but recently underwent shoulder surgery. But as celebrated duos go, these guys go together like Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin, Holmes and Watson. Heck, the real Holmes and Watson — J.B. and Bubba, who tied for 34th — wish they could have been as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as Rahm and Palmer were.
“I can say Jordan and Wesley, sorry, we already have a partner for next year,” Rahm said beaming.
Palmer beamed as well, sitting beside Rahm draped in Mardi Gras beads and tossing bags of Skittles into the interview room like carnival doubloons — the two toasted each birdie this week by munching a Skittle as a motivational treat. He looked like Ed Orgeron after he lands a commitment from a five-star prospect.
“You can tell he’s destined for great things in this game, that’s for sure,” Palmer said. “I’ll take him any day I can.”
As for the Zurich Classic itself, it is a huge plus to have Rahm as one of its champions, someone it can count on to return to play in New Orleans for years to come.
With apologies to Billy Horschel, a former FedEx Cup champion who won with Scott Piercy in 2018, Rahm is the biggest name to win here since the tournament went to team play three years ago. Rahm is one of those players whose every move is closely tracked in the world of golf, another boundless, passionate Spaniard in the tradition of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia (runner-up with Tommy Fleetwood) who is pegged for multiple major greatness before his career is done.
On the PGA Tour, the players compete in tournaments and the tournaments compete for players. Non-majors like the Zurich have to fight to lure the big names into their fields, now more than ever with the compressed schedule that ends with the Tour Championship in late August. The Zurich’s hook is New Orleans’ food and culture and the tournament’s relaxed buddy system, a welcome antithesis to the Masters and PGA Championship pressure cookers that bracket this event a couple weeks before and after.
So good on the Zurich and on Palmer, a PGA Tour good guy whose wife Jennifer is recovering from breast cancer (she and son Mason flew in from Dallas for the final round) and who established a fund to help junior golfers play for tournament fees and dues.
Palmer paid a lot of dues before getting back in the winner’s circle. Now it’s hard to say who was the bigger winner, the Palmer/Rahm team or the tournament itself.