Jon Rahm loses it, but gets it back together at the PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE — For about half a second, there’s no better feeling in the world than hurling a club. All your emotion, all your frustration gets focused into a single, glorious tomahawk, and it feels like you’re hurling your woes into the stratosphere.

Then the club lands — or bounces, if you’ve slung it hard enough — and you realize that you’re still stuck with all the same old problems, and now you’re embarrassed as hell on top of it.

Jon Rahm spent much of his early career dealing with a volcanic temper that turned him into a cursing, club-throwing whirlwind. It probably cost him a few tournaments; it definitely cost him some self-respect. He got himself under control, and his game flourished as a result. Two major championships followed, along with hundreds of millions of dollars.

But every so often, the nasty old habits bubble up to the surface. Late on Thursday afternoon, Rahm — infuriated by yet another wayward shot in a round full of them — tomahawked a club straight into the pristine Valhalla turf. A full-on meltdown seemed imminent.

Only … the meltdown didn’t happen. Rahm not only made par on the 16th, where he’d thrown the club, he birdied the 17th and 18th holes afterward. That put him in red numbers for the day, ending up at -1 and “only” eight strokes behind leader Xander Schauffele.

The omnipresent sports books advertising all over the tournament probably didn’t post a line on Rahm getting his act together. But a savvy gambler could have made a lot of money betting that line after Rahm’s first six holes, when he stood at +4 and looked utterly lost.

It’s been a rough few months for Rahm, who jumped from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf in a shocking decision in December. He hasn’t been able to carve out a win on the LIV tour. At the Masters, he seemed miserable, and struggled to an unremarkable T45 finish. Prior to the PGA Championship, he attempted to straddle the line between LIV and the Tour, even saying he still considers himself a member of the PGA Tour … despite the fact that his defection alone severely wounded the Tour.

“I'm still a PGA Tour member, whether suspended or not. I still want to support the PGA Tour. And I think that's an important distinction to make,” he said earlier this week. “I don't feel like I'm on the other side. I'm just not playing there.”

So it wasn’t quite a surprise to see him stumbling so badly in the early holes of his Thursday round, and it definitely wasn’t a shock to see him boil over on the 16th hole. But the fact that he managed to pull himself together for those final three holes speaks volumes about the game that he still possesses, underneath all the off-course drama.

Sports psychologists probably wouldn’t recommend club-throwing as a means of personal motivation, nor would the PGA or any other grow-the-game organization. But for Rahm, on Thursday, it worked, He may or may not be out of this tournament, but he’s at least given himself a chance. And as anyone who’s watched Rahm in a Ryder Cup knows, he can turn even the smallest opportunity into a victory.