Jon Rahm reveals how feel, natural instinct and a competitive nature have contributed to his significant early success on tour
Jon Rahm Exclusive: “I’m The Furthest Thing From Technical There Possibly Is”
It would be fair to say that 2019 was a very good year for Jon Rahm Rodriguez.
Apart from a maiden Major, there was little else he didn’t achieve as his meteoric rise towards the very pinnacle of the game continued apace.
The 25-year-old Spaniard won once on the PGA Tour and three times in Europe (two Rolex Series events and a successful defence of his national Open), claimed the Race to Dubai title in style and capped it off with a December wedding to long-time girlfriend Kelley Cahill in Bilbao.
Could things possibly get any better for Rahm?
I suspect the answer, almost certainly, is yes.
Golf is forever throwing up ‘next big things’ who seem destined for eternal greatness, yet things don’t always pan out.
For example, I still clearly remember an interview with Tony Jacklin 30-plus years ago in which he told readers that Englishman Paul Way was assured of future Major honours after his early PGA Championship and Ryder Cup heroics, but it wasn’t to be as Way stumbled and ultimately faded after those early highs.
I would be flabbergasted, though, if Rahm were to depart the golfing scene Majorless.
We don’t need to go into every detail of Rahm’s resume here, but a couple of things jumped out at me as I rechecked his impressive amateur record.
The first is that he topped the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a total of 60 weeks in two separate stints during 2015 and 2016, more than any other amateur has achieved since the rankings were founded.
The second is that he elected to forfeit the 2016 Open spot that topping the amateur rankings had afforded him by turning pro after the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, where he finished 23rd.
The records show, though, that Rahm did play at Royal Troon that July.
He teed it up as a pro for the first time in the Quicken Loans National the week after Oakmont and led or co-led for two rounds before going on to finish 3rd, thus securing one of the Open spots on offer to instantly reclaim the place he’d apparently spurned.
If there is one thing Rahm does not lack, it is confidence.
I had the chance to chat to him recently, choosing to kick things off by asking how big a part confidence plays in good golf…
“I think it’s key,” he replies without hesitation.
“Anything in life as a competitor, you need that confidence and to believe in yourself. I always have confidence,” he continues when I ask how easy it is to either find it when you’ve lost it or lose it when you’ve got it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been on the ‘not having confidence’ side. I’ve never lost confidence.
“If we’re talking about confidence and belief being the same thing, then yes, sometimes you’re not hitting the ball well, but I’m always confident that I’m going to hit the best stroke possible.”
Rahm is, however, refreshingly and brutally honest when I ask if the game has always come easy to him.
“No, no, no. I mean, surprisingly for a lot of people now, I was a terrible ball-striker up until I got to college,” he tells me.
“What came easy to me was the short game because that was what I practised the most. But I was a horrible ball-striker.
“It took me going to college and meeting some people in the US to make me understand my swing and how to hit it better.
“Once I understood that, I became one of the best ball-strikers at college and then on tour. But it was a big 360 in my game – I was not a good ball-striker whatsoever.”
Over the years, Spanish players have been renowned for their creativity, imagination and short-game wizardry, and my next question, asking whether he sees himself as a feel player or a technical player, prompts a laugh of disbelief from Rahm.
“You really need to ask me that question!
“I’m the furthest thing from technical there possibly is.
“I’m completely feel. I hate being technical. I haven’t changed anything in my swing for a very long time for a reason.”
Rather than getting too bound up in the golf swing as a youngster, Rahm chose to focus on other things, primarily to replenish and upgrade his ball stocks, it transpires.
“I think a lot of people now are too focused on working on the game and having a good swing – you need to do this and that and that,” he explains.
“But they forget to be competitors. At a young age, I learned how to compete.
“The way I practised was chipping games, putting games, whatever games – ‘I bet you I can do this; I bet you can’t do that’.
“It was as simple as that.
“I would always bet and always play for Pro V1s.
“Once I learned that Pro V1s were the best, I would go to hole 15 on my course, where there was a lake, and fish Pro V1s out.
“I would bet them on the putting green and in chipping games as people would have newer ones than I had.
“That was my way to get golf balls – everything was a competition.
“Until my 11th grade when I went to a golf academy in Spain, I would never just stand there and hit balls for practice. I hardly ever did that.”
As a young Spaniard, he is, of course, following in some pretty daunting footsteps, so I ask which of his compatriots has been the greatest source of inspiration to him.
“When I started playing golf, the big name was Sergio,” he says.
“I grew up watching Sergio, but the more I got in to the game, the more I learned about Seve – how he inspired people not only by how he played golf, but in how he brought them together, how he had people wanting to play golf and how golf changed in Europe and Spain thanks to him.”
I wonder if he has tried to emulate any of his Spanish predecessors or their golf games in any way?
“No, because I would need their physical body to be able to do it,” he rationalises.
“I’ll never be able to do what Seve did in any possible way, never be able to do what Ollie’s been able to do and never be able to do what Sergio has done because I just don’t move the same way.
“I try to copy a little bit, I try to be as charismatic as Seve – I’d love to, but it’s hard to.
“I learned from what they did and watched a lot of videos, but it’s hard to copy those guys – we’re talking about some of the best short-game players in history.”
Heart On His Sleeve…
Passion and a real fire in the belly are characteristics that most Spanish golfing heroes have been blessed with over the years, and it almost goes without saying that Rahm wants for nothing in those departments.
In fact, here is a man who wears his heart so close to his sleeve that you can at times see it pumping through the bulging biceps underneath his Adidas shirt.
I ask if laying his emotions so bare so often is always helpful or has it sometimes counted against him.
“I don’t think it’s a good or a bad thing,” he replies honestly.
“It’s just who I am. It’s as simple as that. Some people are the opposite of that. It’s as simple as saying that’s who I am in everything I do.
“Trust me when I say I behave the same way when I’m playing cards at home or on the golf course. It’s simply who I am.
“There have been moments where my emotions have got the better of me.
“You’re going to get a reaction out of me whether it’s a good shot or a bad shot, but there have been times where maybe a situation has escalated quickly and I’ve been a little more frustrated than I should have been.
“But it’s not a bad thing.
“For so many years, having that competitiveness and passion has helped me after making a bogey to make birdie afterwards. It’s one of the reasons why I have one of the best bounce-back stats on tour.”
Watch: Jon Rahm What’s in the bag? –
I ask if he’s ever sought to control it in any way.
“There have been times when I’ve said, ‘Right, I’m going to play 18 holes smiling and being happy without getting mad’, and I can’t play golf,” he replies.
“There’s not a chance I’ll shoot under par – I’ve tried it before and it’s bad. It’s simply going against who I am.”
Sticking To His Guns…
I then make the mistake of using the M word by uttering the name ‘McEnroe’ for comparison.
Older readers may remember the scene in An American Werewolf in London where Jack and David enter the Slaughtered Lamb to be greeted by a deathly hush as all eyes turn to stare.
That’s a little how I feel for a second or two in the small meeting room at the back of the TaylorMade tour truck as the word ‘McEnroe’ slips from my lips!
“No, not even close!” Rahm responds, breaking the silence with a slightly pained tone.
“I’m not yelling at the referee. But there’s passion. Tiger was passionate in the same way, Seve was up there.
“Nowadays with social media, people capture everything, but I’m not McEnroe.”
McEnroe was, of course, a multiple Major Champion, and in closing I return to my belief that if ever there were a golfer destined beyond all doubt to win Majors, then surely it is Rahm.
I ask what he feels he needs to do to take that next step, and the answer is surprising compared to how other good players have responded to the same question in the past.
“The same exact thing,” he says.
“I’m not going to change what has got me to this point – simple as that.
“I’ve seen a lot of people try to change things once they’ve got on tour, even after winning Majors, because they thought they had to change, and their careers have gone down.
“I haven’t changed my golf game in a long time. I don’t think I have to – I just need to slowly be getting better with what I know I can do. I know my time will come. When it comes to my golf game, I don’t believe anything needs to change.”
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