Winning Rookie of the Year is no Guarantee of Future Success
IT IS no surprise that Jon Rahm has been named 2017 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award. The remarkable Spaniard has enjoyed an incredible season, which has seen him win the Irish Open on the European Tour and the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour. He has soared to fifth in the world rankings and currently lies fourth in the Race to Dubai - a position he has achieved from only a handful of starts.
His only rivals were South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, Englishman Jordan Smith, Hideto Tanihara of Japan and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox but, in truth, this was a one-horse race.
Rahm, who is 23 years old, only turned professional in June 2016 after a sensational amateur career where he represented Arizona State University in the United States, winning 11 titles and reaching World Amateur Number One along the way.
He secured his maiden professional title at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, holing a 60-foot eagle putt on the final hole to clinch the title.
Rahm then joined the European Tour and almost immediately emulated three of his Spanish golfing heroes – Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia – with a stunning win in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, storming to a six-stroke victory at Portstewart Golf Club with his 24 under par total of 264 being the lowest in the tournament’s history.
Rahm is the first Spaniard to win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award since Pablo Larrazábal in 2008, and the fifth in total, with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (2005), Garcia (1999) and Olazábal (1986) also having claimed the honour.
Rahm said: “It's a very satisfying feeling to win this award. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would be sitting here – fourth in the Race to Dubai, playing the way I've done in the Rolex Series, becoming Rookie of the Year – when I wasn't even a member at the beginning of the year – it's a really special feeling.
“I haven't checked all the names of the people that won this, but I did see Sam Torrance, and I'm guessing there are a lot of other great names too. It's just a huge honour to be sitting here in this position at this time of the year. I'm really happy and I'm really blessed that I have this opportunity and that I am able to accomplish this award. It's something I'm really proud of.”
So what guarantee to success is the Rookie of the Year Award? You might be surprised by some of the golfers who have won this award since Tommy Goodwin picked up the inaugural prize back in 1960.
Notable winners include Tony Jacklin (1963), Bernard Gallagher (1968), Peter Oosterhuis (1969), Sam Torrance (1972), Carl Mason (1974), Mark James (1976), Nick Faldo (1977), Sandy Lyle (1978), Olazabal (1986), Colin Montgomerie (1988), Thomas Bjorn (1996), Garcia (1999), Ian Poulter (2000), Paul Casey (2001), Martin Kaymer (2007), Chris Wood (2009) and Brooks Koepka (2014).
All of the golfers named above went on to achieve great things within the sport - tournament wins, majors, Ryder Cup caps, success both in Europe and on the PGA Tour. But for every golfer who won the Rookie of the Year award and went on to become one of the best, there is another who was unable to sustain that success.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano won the award in 2005 - in 2017 he was back at the European Tour Qualifying School, trying to regain his playing privileges. Nick Dougherty, who won it in 2002, had fleeting success but has now all but hung up his golf clubs and is working as a commentator/analyst for Sky Sports.
Have you ever heard of Olivier Edmond? He is a French golfer who was rookie of the year in 1998. A year earlier, the award went to Scotland's Scott Henderson - he lost his card at the end of 1999 and has spent the rest of his career trying to make a living on second-tier circuits.
Or what about Tom Lewis, winner of the Henry Cotton award in 2011? He led The Open as an amateur that year and went on to finish 30th before playing for GB&I in the Walker Cup. He turned professional and finished 10th in his first event, the Austrian Open, before going on to win the Portugal Masters in October 2011 at the age off 20. It appeared that a new superstar had arrived on the scene. But he has since lost, regained and lost his European Tour card. Lewis finished 135th in the Order of Merit in 2017, losing his playing privileges again.
He is still only 26 years old and has time on his side, but he will not want to follow in the footsteps of Edmond or Henderson.
And then there was Peter Baker, rookie of the year in 1987. The Englishman won three times and played brilliant golf in a losing cause during the 1993 Ryder Cup. But, just as suddenly, Baker lost his game and his playing privileges and bounced back and forth between the Challenge and European Tours.
Other winners of the Rookie of the Year award you will almost certainly never have heard of include Robin Middle (1966), Stuart Brown (1970), Jeremy Bennett (1981), Paul Thomas (1985) and Jonathan Lomas (1994).
Rahm will not be following any of these men - he is already a superstar and will surely go on to win majors. But it just goes to show - there are no guarantees in this game. Just ask Tom Lewis.
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