Padraig Harrington is likely breathing a sigh of relief.
As it turns out, the European Ryder Cup captain’s star player, world No. 1 Jon Rahm, is feeling better as he battles a stomach illness. Now, Rahm’s game just needs to follow suit, as the Spaniard returned to action Thursday at Silverado Resort with a first-round 72 to open the new season at the Fortinet Championship.
It wasn’t a particularly sharp ball-striking day, as Rahm found just six fairways and missed five greens in regulation, and his putter failed to cooperate. He holed less than 50 feet of putts and was losing about a shot and a half to the field on the greens when he wrapped up his morning round.
“A little tight today probably from having to be in bed for so long yesterday,” said Rahm, who missed the pro-am and his media obligations on Wednesday because of the bug. “Toward the end [of the round], a lot of times my mind just wasn't in it, I was having a hard time focusing given the fact that I haven't had a solid meal since Tuesday morning.
"It is what it is. I just started, I'm feeling good now."
Compared to earlier in the week, Rahm couldn’t complain. He said he didn’t sleep well Monday evening before feeling sluggish during a nine-hole practice round on Tuesday. That night, after a sponsor dinner, Rahm went to bed but was quickly awaken, “feeling terrible.”
He decided to spend his final day of prep in his room.
“My stomach just wasn't agreeing with me,” Rahm said. “It's not like I couldn't have played the pro-am, but I would have had too many unnecessary stops, let's just say it that way. I would have taken a long time to play and that would have delayed everybody else quite a bit.”
A little too much information, maybe, but it’s something Harrington and his vice captains were surely monitoring. Rahm has had a rough go with illnesses this year. He contracted COVID-19 in early June and was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament, which he led with one round to play. A month later, he had to call off his Olympics trip to Tokyo after testing positive for the coronavirus again.
Rahm said he felt “way worse” dealing with these stomach issues than when he had COVID-19, but he reasoned that the long season had taken a toll on his body and made him more susceptible.
“I've heard there's a stomach virus going on,” Rahm said, “but I think in my case it's just a little run down from the season and just happened to manifest this way.”
So, with the Ryder Cup set for next week at Whistling Straits, why play this week’s Tour stop in Napa, California? Rahm said he thought about not playing, but that would mean he, wife Kelley and son Kepa would have to pack up, fly home to Scottsdale and then get right back on a plane Monday to head up to Wisconsin.
Plus, his clubs in Arizona are watering heavily to keep the Bermudagrass in good shape, and conditions are soft and slow. Playing Silverado would provide a better test as a Ryder Cup tune-up.
“I'm going to get better in due time whether I play here or not,” Rahm said, “and I would rather get competition rounds in at least for the mental aspect of the Ryder Cup.”
Rahm went 1-2 in his Ryder Cup debut three years ago in Paris, though he did beat Tiger Woods in singles. He’ll be counted on even more this time around, so Harrington will need a top-shape Rahm, both mentally and physically, if the visiting side is to retain the cup. (Though the U.S. side is dealing with some concerns of its own, most notably Brooks Koepka's wrist.)
Right now, Rahm is still on the mend in both aspects, but a good meal and night’s sleep on Thursday will be a good start.