How Jon Rahm Conquered the World
FOUR years ago Jon Rahm tied for third at the Quicken Loans National on his professional debut on the PGA Tour. A few weeks later he shot rounds of 67, 71, 72 and 67 to finish in a tie for second place in the Canadian Open.
Even then, it was obvious that we were watching a very special young talent. Built like a tank, he possesses a short backswing but propels the ball huge distances and is blessed with a wondrous touch around the greens. He also has a very fiery temperament and divides opinion as to whether that hurts or helps his game. You only need to look at Rahm to know whether he has hit a good shot. He routinely slams clubs into the ground when things are not going his way but by the time he is ready to play his next shot any negative thoughts have been banished.
But who would have believed just four short years later he would win The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village and overtake Rory McIlroy to become the world’s top-ranked player? In the process he became only the second Spaniard after Seve Ballesteros to achieve the feat.
“I have accomplished a lifelong goal and any time I can join Spanish history with Seve is incredible,” he said. “But it’s hard to process right now because golf feels secondary. I lost two family members in quarantine. There are so many things going through my mind right now that have nothing to do with golf.”
So how did he get there?
Rahm was the number one amateur golfer for 60 weeks, which is a record, and was also the low amateur at the 2016 US Open, after which he turned professional. That decision meant that he had to give up his place at that year’s Open, something he quickly put right at the Quicken Loans.
Born in Barrika, Rahm could barely speak a word of English when he arrived at Arizona State, where he would win 11 college tournaments. He now speaks fluent English with a slight American twang.
Rahm won the Ben Hogan Award in 2015 and 2016, the first player to do so twice. He was also the leading individual at the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy. His first start in a PGA Tour event came at the Phoenix Open in 2015, when he finished in a tie for fifth place as an amateur.
He first reached the top of the amateur world rankings in April 2015 and qualified for the following year’s US Open and Open Championship. He was the low amateur at the 2016 US Open, finishing his final tournament as an amateur in a tie for 23rd place.
After the US Open, Rahm turned professional. The next week Rahm played in his first event as a pro at the Quicken Loans. He held or shared the lead for the first two rounds and finished tied for third place, four strokes behind the winner, Billy Hurley, and qualified to play in The Open after all. The Spaniard then finished tied for second place at the Canadian Open, securing Special Temporary Member status for the remainder of the season. And he hasn’t looked back since.
In late January 2017, he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in spectacular fashion, holing a 60-foot putt on the final green. That victory saw him rise from 137th to 46th in the world rankings, and his rise has continued ever since. In March 2017, Rahm played in his first WGC event at the WGC-Mexico Championship, where he finished two behind the winner, Dustin Johnson.
In his second WGC event, the Dell Technologies WGC Match Play, he finished runner-up to Johnson. At the end of a week in which he beat the likes of Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell III and Shane Lowry his world ranking had risen to 14.
Rahm finished tied for 27th place in his first Masters and then finished fourth at the Wells Fargo and joint runner-up at the Dean & DeLuca, after which he found himself in the world’s top 10 for the first time.
He made his much anticipated European Tour debut at the French Open, where he finished 10th but the following week he dominated the field at the Irish Open, winning by six strokes.
Rahm finished the regular PGA Tour season in sixth place in the FedEx Cup standings. He enjoyed top-10 finishes in all four of the FedEx Cup Playoff events and ended fifth in the final standings.
And still he wasn’t finished. Rahm won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, securing the European Tour’s rookie of the year award.
We didn’t have to wait long for his next PGA Tour triumph. After finishing second yet again to Johnson at the Tournament of Champions in January 2018, he landed the Career Builder Challenge after a sudden death playoff with Andrew Landry. It meant he had won four times in his first 38 starts as a pro - a record bettered only by Tiger Woods. And it elevated him to second in the world rankings after less than two years in the paid ranks.
He also won the Open de Espana and was a key member of the European Ryder Cup team that cruised to victory over the USA at Le Golf National. And he ended 2018 with yet another win, this time at the Hero World Challenge.
Rahm began 2019 as he had ended the previous year, winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with Ryan Palmer. He followed this with his best performance at a major when he ended the US Open at Pebble Beach in a tie for third.
A few weeks later he won the Irish Open for a second time. This time he trailed Robert Rock by five shots going into the final round. He played the first nine in 31 and recorded four birdies and eagle on the back nine for a sensational round of 62 to give him a two-shot victory. And he wasn’t finished yet. He won the Open de Espana again, this time with a 72-hole total of 262, and he closed out the season by landing the DP World Tour Championship for a second time, which was good enough to ensure he also finished the season winning the Race to Dubai.
He began the 2019-20 PGA Tour season well enough, the highlight being a runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, but struggled during the restart, missing the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge, and failing to make any impact in his next three starts.
It couldn’t last. And it didn’t. He won at Muirfield Village during a final round in which everybody around him seemed to be losing their heads. Rahm finished with a 75 that included a two-shot penalty when he moved his ball with his clubbed before holing a pitch, but he still won The Memorial by three shots.
To put things in perspective, Rahm has won four times on the PGA Tour and six times on the European Tour - and he is still only 25 years old. There would appear to be no limits to what the Spaniard can achieve.
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