Kapalua means time for Rahm and Cantlay to get back to work

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Patrick Cantlay hits from the ninth tee during the Tournament of Champions pro-am team play golf event, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, , at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The sweeping views of the Pacific beyond the lush landscape of Kapalua put the soul at ease and can make the first PGA Tour event of the year feel like part work, part vacation.

Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm have had enough of the latter.

Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world, will have gone 83 days since he last hit a shot that counted when he tees off Thursday in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

He shot 74 to miss the cut in the Andalucia Masters three weeks after the Ryder Cup and was so fried that he said, “This is the first time in my life that I don't want to see a golf club.” He didn't play the rest of the year.

Cantlay won the final two events to capture the FedEx Cup. He was voted PGA Tour player of the year and then was ruthless as ever in an American rout at the Ryder Cup. His next competitive shot will be 102 days later.

Whether there will be rust at Kapalua is irrelevant. This was more about rest.

“There's tournaments all year round that you almost have to force yourself to take time off,” Cantlay said. “And I thought that was the perfect opportunity for me to get a couple months and rest my body and rest my mind, and that way I can play the rest of this year just really fresh and excited to go out and compete.”

What's a golf junkie do without golf? Nothing terribly exciting for Cantlay, except that he was quite content with a book in hand, time in the gym and no doubt being entertained during one fishing excursion in the Atlantic with Dustin Johnson.

Rahm's year was just as hectic, bordering on chaotic.

Officially, his lone victory was his first major in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That was two weeks after his positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the Memorial after he had built a six-shot lead going into the final round. And that was two months after becoming a father.

But his fatigue goes back even further.

When golf returned from the pandemic-forced shutdown in June 2020, Rahm played 11 out of 15 weeks, winning twice. He reached the finish line at the Masters in November, sharing the 36-hole lead before fading. And then he kept working through the winter while changing to a new equipment company.

“I did not want changing clubs to really be an excuse," Rahm said.

Not to worry. In the 18 events he played from January through the Tour Championship, the Spaniard finished out of the top 10 only five times. One of those was his WD with a six-shot lead at the Memorial.

“So when that Ryder Cup was over, I was drained for the previous year-and-a-half,” Rahm said. “And after I went to Spain and finished play, I needed a break — not only for me but also for my family. We all endured it together and I just wanted the time to be a dad and be a husband and just be there for my wife and my son.”

Much like Cantlay, Rahm didn't face any temptations to return earlier than he did. He was busy with diapers, not books, and loving every minute of it.

“I know I’m not going to regret it anytime I decide to spend more time with my family and that was what that decision was based on,” he said. “And I couldn’t be happier that I made that decision.”

The excitement level goes beyond the freshest two players in the 38-man field.

If there were concerns a decade ago that Kapalua was getting stale and the winners-only field was losing star power, that's no longer the case.

Even with the PGA Tour taking a six-week hiatus, there is high energy on the rugged, western edge of Maui. The only eligible player not at Kapalua is Rory McIlroy, who starts his new year in Abu Dhabi two weeks from now.

Bryson DeChambeau plays his first official event since the Tour Championship — though he had two forgettable outings in a TV match against Brooks Koepka and a tie for 14th in the Bahamas.

Jordan Spieth is so excited to be back that he caught himself thinking about Kapalua during the final round of the Texas Open in April, which he won to end nearly four years without a victory.

“I had to kind of throw it out of my head because I had thought about it a couple other times during previous events in the season when I had leads on Sunday,” he said.

Spieth at least snuck over to the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge after fatherhood.

Three players are coming off victories. Talor Gooch won the final PGA Tour event of the year and was the last man to qualify. Viktor Hovland won the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. The other is Phil Mickelson, whose last event was a win in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on the 50-and-older tour.


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