The Scottish Mail on Sunday


Jon aim­ing to add US Open to Ser­gio’s Mas­ters vic­tory

- By Derek Lawren­son GOLF COR­RE­SPON­DENT

JON RAHM goes from one in­ter­view to the next with the prac­tised ease of a 20-year vet­eran not a 22-year-old rookie. There is a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view to con­duct in Span­ish, then Amer­i­can sta­tion the Golf Chan­nel, back to Span­ish be­fore fi­nally the cam­era crews move on and he con­verses hap­pily in flu­ent English about Seve, Ser­gio and his own ex­tra­or­di­nary rise into the world’s top 10.

There is warmth, in­tel­li­gence and a nat­u­ral con­fi­dence in his an­swers that never tip­toes into ar­ro­gance.

Ask him about the chance at the US Open at Erin Hills this week to em­u­late the achieve­ment of Seve Balles­teros and win a ma­jor at 22 and he replies: ‘Yes, I could win the US Open.

‘I think my game shapes up well to the chal­lenge in that I’m fairly pre­cise off the tee and have a good short game and feel with the put­ter. But to match Seve and win a ma­jor at 22? Let’s not for­get: Seve is Seve.’

It was af­ter watch­ing Seve sprin­kle his star­dust all over Valder­rama cap­tain­ing Europe to vic­tory at the 1997 Ry­der Cup that Edorta Rahm, a sales­man in the pe­tro­leum in­dus­try, added the gen­tle game of golf to his love of ex­treme sports.

When their son Jon turned eight, he and his wife An­gela, a mid­wife, started tak­ing him to a lo­cal club near their home in Bar­rika in north­ern Spain — about an 80minute drive from Pe­drena, where Seve learned to play.

‘I spent most of my time mak­ing up dif­fer­ent shots to try around the chip­ping green,’ re­calls Rahm, in clear echoes of the meth­ods of Spain’s great­est ever golfer. ‘I never liked play­ing the same shot over and over again. That was bor­ing to me.’

Rahm spoke lit­tle English when he went to Arizona State Univer­sity in 2012 but grad­u­ated with an above av­er­age 3.6 grade in com­mu­ni­ca­tions four years later. Along the way he equalled Phil Mickelson’s record there of 11 col­lege vic­to­ries and spent more than a year as the world’s No1 ranked am­a­teur. The man who re­cruited him to Arizona, Phil’s brother Tim, quit his job as coach to be­come Rahm’s man­ager when he joined the pro ranks last year.

Tim ob­vi­ously knew some­thing but even he could not have fore­seen Rahm’s Tiger-like con­ver­sion.

Se­cur­ing his card with two top-three fin­ishes in his first four events, Rahm won for the first time at Tor­rey Pines in Jan­uary in just his 12th start. He did so with an ea­gle at the fi­nal hole, where he struck a drive and five wood to 60ft and holed the putt to send for­mer US Open cham­pion Johnny Miller into rap­ture. ‘He’s got “fu­ture world No1” writ­ten all over his fore­head,’ en­thused Miller.

Nor has there been any let-up since, with more top-10 fin­ishes com­piled on tour (seven) so far this sea­son than even the cur­rent world No 2 and de­fend­ing US Open cham­pion, Dustin John­son (six).

‘Yes, of course it’s sur­prised me,’ said Rahm, who pro­pels the ball enor­mous dis­tances with a short swing and a bull-like frame. ‘How could I have thought I would do so well, so quickly? Now I just want to carry on and try to win again this year.’

Rahm fin­ished tied 23rd and won the sil­ver medal as lead­ing am­a­teur on his US Open de­but last year and will un­doubt­edly be among the favourites this week. What about fol­low­ing Ser­gio Gar­cia’s vic­tory at the Mas­ters to take his na­tion half­way to a Span­ish Slam?

‘The Span­ish Slam? I’ve not heard that be­fore but I like it,’ he said, smil­ing. ‘Wasn’t that some­thing see­ing Ser­gio win at Augusta af­ter all those near misses? Of course it was in­spi­ra­tional. When you see and hear about the re­ac­tion back home, it’s ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion, for sure.

‘I re­mem­ber meet­ing Ser­gio for the first time and my hands were shak­ing so much, but he was so kind. The first time I can re­mem­ber him play­ing golf was when he wore that all-yel­low out­fit against Tiger (2006 Open at Hoy­lake). If it hadn’t been for Tiger he’d have five ma­jors or more but at least he now has one. He’s got all this ex­tra at­ten­tion — and one ex­tra piece of cloth­ing.’

Given their close bond, you will not be too sur­prised to hear Rahm de­scribe the prospect of team­ing up with Gar­cia at the Ry­der Cup in

Paris next year as ‘a dream’. He quickly adds, how­ever: ’Don’t for­get Rafa Cabr­era-Bello. He’ll make the team again and I’d love to play with him as well.’

Rahm joined the Euro­pean Tour ear­lier this year and will com­pete at the Ir­ish Open at Royal Port­stew­art next month, fol­low­ing the gen­tle urg­ings of tour­na­ment host Rory McIl­roy, another with whom he has quickly es­tab­lished a bond. Next up, though, is Erin Hills and a course that seems to play to all of his strengths.

In his younger days, Rahm’s fa­ther, a keen moun­taineer, scaled the peak of Mont Blanc on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

Now it is his son, in his own sport, who has em­barked on a seem­ingly in­ex­orable rise to the sum­mit.

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 ??  ?? HIGH HOPE: Jon Rahm has made a re­mark­able im­pact as a pro­fes­sional
HIGH HOPE: Jon Rahm has made a re­mark­able im­pact as a pro­fes­sional

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