That Jon Rahm has ascended into becoming one of the world’s top golfers at the age of just 24 shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, the Spaniard was breaking records before he’d even turned professional.
His two separate stints of 25 weeks, and then 35 weeks, as the world’s number one amateur is an all-time record; and the 11 collegiate golf tournament victories for the Arizona State Sun Devils represents a haul only bettered by the great Phil Mickelson.
In the 14 majors he has played in his career up to the end of 2019, he has made 10 cuts and finished in the top 25 on six occasions, with his tied-third position at the 2019 US Open his best result yet. It has led him to sixth in the world golf rankings, his achievements all the while characterised by an explosive style of play that doesn’t appear to limit his ability to play great golf… in fact, just the opposite.
RSNG In your very first tournament on the PGA Tour, you made a hole in one. It was at the second hole at the Safeway Open in Arizona – how did it feel? JON RAHM, WORLD’S BEST YOUNG GOLFER ‘I have to highlight that it was my first hole in one, ever! My first hole in one and I do it on the second hole of my official professional career. It was very special and once it went in, I had about 150 yards to walk and I was stressing to myself that I couldn’t let that one moment dictate the rest of the round.’
‘I had to make sure that I kept going and made more birdies and not just be content with the ace, then I was almost cursing myself and saying that I’ve now set myself up for a bunch of bogies. But I tried to stay focused and in the game in order to keep up the momentum and, luckily, that’s what I did.’
RSNG You mention about berating yourself – it seems you adopt a tough mentality even when things are going well? JR ‘I don’t like to relax and I’ve been in situations in the past where I’ve let myself down in the way I have gone about a round, or even just a shot. It seems strange, I know, to be annoyed at playing a good shot, but I guess in myself I couldn’t quite believe it, and I was drawing on a real desire not to spoil such a magical moment.’
Golf is a sport where convention is very important, and you are not really meant to show emotion
RSNG Your anger on the course is always up for discussion and, ironically, you’re not annoyed when this is raised? JR ‘I honestly think the way I am, and being up and down on the golf course, is an advantage for me. But honestly, I have been doing a lot of work when it comes to my passion – as some people like to call it. It’s how I express my passion and it’s something I think people seeing me doing this on the golf course, and can take the wrong way.’
‘Golf is a sport where convention is very important, and you are not really meant to show emotion. I was brought up in the Basque country where the opposite is true, and you are meant to be fierce, passionate and proud; so I am warring with my own emotions, a little, all the time.’
RSNG Do you feel onlookers don’t understand the passion and the situation? JR ‘Of course not – how can they? Just like I wouldn’t understand it if I was watching them. This is all about the emotions and the thoughts that go on in someone’s head, and there is only one person who can truly appreciate that.’
‘I know in the past my actions and emotions have been discussed as a bit petty, and that is not really a description that I like. I am constantly trying to change that and it’s certainly a work in progress.’
I like to have these running battles with myself because they really push forward in me a spirit of survival
RSNG Does the anger hinder you? JR ‘No, never! It is the anger and the emotion that centres me. I like to feel as if I am battling something and trying to overcome obstacles by myself.’
‘I like to have these running battles with myself because they really push forward in me a spirit of survival and a passion to win that goes far beyond just finishing at the top of the leaderboard. For me, it is about proving people wrong, having respect for myself and growing as a person through experiences.’
‘It’s a method that really works for me, and every sports psychologist I have seen all given me the same answer – they don’t want me not to get mad! The anger is not a bad thing as long as you can compartmentalise how you use it, how you channel it and, to a lesser extent, how it comes out and is received by the public.’
RSNG It does seem as if the sport needs passionate characters again? JR ‘I agree. Seve Ballesteros was someone who I admired intensely, and he was an angry player. Seve had a temper and so did Jose Maria Olazabal, but the people and the galleries loved them so much.’
RSNG And people are beginning to like you for it? JR ‘Well, I am still only 24 years of age – it may be seen as a little bit juvenile sometimes, but it is something that I have been working on and I think that I have matured a lot on that. I am totally aware of it and I will never, ever deny it and like a lot of things; acceptance is the first step.’
RSNG How did you get started playing golf? JR ‘I think that it was the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderrama which inspired me to pick up a golf club. But no-one in my family had even seen a golf course before. My Dad started playing and then my Mum got into, also and my brother, so really it went from there.’
I don’t really have a game plan when I play – I do my work on the course and decide there and then... get angry, get hitting some balls!
RSNG Why do you think you were able to make such a smooth transition from college golf to the professional game? JR ‘Well, luckily for me I already had some PGA Tour experience as an amateur. I was able to play four PGA Tour events and they were good events, and playing those events let me know what I was capable of.’
‘Then, I showed up in a major at the US Open for the first time and I finished tied 23 and I was the only amateur to make the cut – it felt like it really meant something.’
‘What I know as well is that there should be no change when you start playing for money. Truth be told, in my mind I always play to win, and money has never really been in my mind.’
RSNG Since you have turned professional, what has been the biggest challenge for you? JR ‘Well, it’s mainly getting used to ‘Tour Life’. In college, most of the events you play are over three rounds and a lot of them are done in two days, so 36 holes on the first day and then 18 on the second. So, for one week on the PGA Tour you can pretty much say that I play more golf than I used to do for almost three events in college.’
‘In college, we played about 14 or 15 events and that counts for the same amount as six PGA Tour events, pretty much. That’s what I have needed to get used to over time – playing a lot more golf and pacing myself.’
‘The other thing now is when you have a bad round and your reaction inside is to want to go and hit a couple more balls. But you have got to learn when to say no and sometimes learning to rest a little more is better than practising a little extra.’
RSNG What kind of philosophy do you have when you are out on the course? JR ‘I am the type of person who just follows his gut and that is a pure statement. I consider myself to be a good driver of the ball… a comfortable driver, and I try to take advantage of that.’
‘I also consider myself to be a pretty aggressive player – I like firing the ball at the pin and although that’s not something I should always do, I like doing it.’
RSNG What is your tournament game plan? JR ‘If I am honest, I don’t really have a game plan when I play in tournaments. I do my work on the course and once I get to the tee and see the pin position, I decide there and then what I am going to do.’
‘It’s hard for me to decide the day before what I am going to do on each hole… I don’t work like that. Get angry, get hitting some balls!’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Jon Rahm and compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello take on the European Tour’s popular 14 Club Challenge.