The Scottish Mail on Sunday
RAHM & THE SPAIN REIGN
Jon aiming to add US Open to Sergio’s Masters victory
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.