The future of golf is in good hands. This is what Jack Nicklaus declared a couple of years ago when a little-known, strapping, 20-year-old Basque golfer pulverised the record previously set by the Golden Bear in the 1960 World Amateur Championship. Already Jon Rahm was accumulating an impressive list of achievements. That same year he set a new record for number of eagles in a university golf season (18), carded the lowest round in the NCAA finals (61) and competed twice on the US PGA Tour as an invitee, finishing fifth in his second event, in Phoenix, where he would have won $240,000 if he had been playing as a professional.
He could actually have turned pro a lot sooner, but he promised his parents he would finish his communications degree at Arizona State University, where his golf coach was Tim Mickelson, brother of Phil. And he kept to his word.
After holding on to number one spot in the world amateur rankings for 60 weeks, and becoming the first player to win the Ben Hogan Award twice (2015 and 2016) as the outstanding collegiate golfer, he made the big step into the paid ranks after last year’s US Open, where he finished joint 23rd and was the only amateur to make the halfway cut.
His first tournament as a professional was in the Quicken Loans National. He challenged strongly for victory on the final day and eventually finished tied for third, four behind the winner, Billy Hurley III. One month later, he went even closer to his first Tour title, with joint second place in the Canadian Open. This and his other early results playing with sponsors’ exemptions enabled him to become eligible for special temporary membership of the Tour after just two months and four events (having surpassed the number of points earned by the player ranked 150th in the previous season’s FedExCup standings).
In November 2016 he teamed with Rafa Cabrera-Bello to represent Spain in the World Cup played in Australia, and they finished eighth.
He achieved six top-25 finishes in his first nine tournaments on the PGA Tour then, in just his 12th start – towards the end of February at Torrey Pines – he became the youngest winner in the history of the Farmers Insurance Open (taking the record from Phil Mickelson).
Rahm, who turned 22 in November, made two eagles over the final six holes, the last one a 20-metre putt from the back fringe on the par-five 18th hole for a five-under 67 to win his first US PGA Tour title, a place in the 2017 US Masters and a cheque for $1.2 million (elevating his career prizemoney since he turned pro last June to $3.3 million).
Three weeks later, competing in just his second World Golf Championship (after finishing third in the Mexico Championship earlier in March), he became the first Spaniard to make the final of the Dell Match Play in Texas, eventually losing to world number one Dustin Johnson on the last hole. That runner-up finish enabled him to rise to fourth in the FedExCup standings and 14th in the world rankings.
European Tour Member
The WGC event in Mexico was Rahm’s first as an official member of the European Tour. Said Rahm of his new membership, “I have always wanted to play the Ryder Cup and I have always wanted to be a member of the European Tour. I have obviously taken a different approach to tour life than a lot of other Europeans who went to college in the States, but I thought this was my best shot. I’m surprised I have been able to take this opportunity so early but it’s great to be able to join.
“I have so many memories of the European Tour – one that stands out was watching Justin Rose’s hole-in-one on the third hole at the Volvo Masters the year he won the order of merit at Valderrama. I remember Miguel (Jiménez) winning the French Open; Pablo (Larrazábal) winning the French Open and then Pablo and Sergio’s play-off at the BMW International too. I’m really looking forward to playing some tournaments on the European Tour.”
If he stays inside the world’s top 50 (which is almost a certainty – he was 26th at the time), Rahm will be eligible to play in any of the first five tournaments in the European Tour’s new Rolex Series, an alliance of eight events each with a minimum prize fund of US$7million. Rahm has also indicated that he hopes to compete in the Andalucía Valderrama Masters in October.
(Photos courtesy of TaylorMade and Isagenix – two of Jon Rahm’s main sponsors.)