Jon Rahm. Pic: Getty Images
As I write this piece a day before the final round of the 2020 Memorial at Muirfield Village, Jon Rahm stands on the threshold of history. Not since August 19, 1989 when Seve Ballesteros last held the World No. 1 ranking, has a Spaniard held the Numero Uno spot.
Rahm will become World No. 1 with a win if Rory McIlroy finishes worse than 2-way tie for second or solo-second, if McIlroy finishes worse than solo-30th and Justin Thomas does not win. All that will be decided shortly. McIlroy is 10 shots behind and T-12 after three rounds.
Rahm like most Spanish golfers of this and the previous generation, grew up idolizing the swashbuckling Seve, who is a hero for European golf. Rahm is close to emulating him in the matter of becoming World No. 1. For Rahm this is a big deal, though the Majors and more are yet to come.
Whenever he is asked being compared to Seve, Rahm gets a bit emotional. What would it mean to be the only Spaniard other than Seve, to become World No. 1? Rahm says, “It’s always tough to put it into words. Seve is a huge influence of mine. I’ve said many times thanks to that Ryder Cup in ’97 and his captaincy and the way he inspired many not only in Spain but in Europe, he’s the reason why I’m playing here today, and any time I can do something remotely close to what he did, it’s pretty emotional.”
He added, “I can’t lie. It’s something that deep in my core as a Spaniard and as a player I would love to achieve, and if you think about it, Major champions that came after him like Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazábal never got to be, so it would be quite unique.”
Getting to No. 1 has been on the radar for a while. He said, “Oh, it’s extremely important. No. 1 in the world; a few months ago in Dubai I got the opportunity to make some Spanish history, and it would be doing it again to become No. 1 after Seve. It’s obviously a big deal. I can’t sit here and not — and try to diminish it and avoid it because it would just be lying to myself because it is a big deal.”
More than once Rahm has got to No. 2 but now he is closer than ever before to No. 1.
Entry into World’s Top-10 and then Top-10
Rahm, who entered the World’s Top-50 with a second place at Dean & Deluca Invitational in May 2017, slipped out of that elite only for a 11-week period but that was only by one spot – he was 11thin the world. Interestingly, the period included T-9 at Masters and T-3 at US Open.
He first rose to No. 2 in the World for the first time in January, 2018 after a stretch 1-2-1 beginning with a win at the 2017 DP World, 2ndat Sentry Tournament and a win at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He closed 2018 with a win at Hero Challenge in Bahamas, and he closed 2019 with a win at the Mutuaactivos Open de Espana, DP World and a 2ndat Hero Challenge. He was third in the world. Four of his first five starts in 2020 were in Top-10, including a second at Farmers and a third at WGC-Mexico.
The PGA Tour’s re-start with the Charles Schwab saw him miss the cut and then had finishes of T-33 (RBC Heritage), T-37 (Travelers) and T-27 at Workday Charity Open. Now he is leading by four.
What is that has changed for Rahm? Is it patience, because in the past he has often been seen as fiery and very emotional at times.
Rahm said, “Man, if there was a way to measure it and a way for me to tell you, I would. But I don’t know. This week, whatever happens tomorrow (on Sunday) happens, but it’ll be a great test for me to learn for the future, for major championships, because this is going to be the closest thing we get to a major championship without being one.”
“I think it’s really good. There’s definitely been moments out there this week where I could have just lost it or maybe any past I would have gotten more frustrated and changed my game plan.”
Rahm learning from mistakes
That is probably been the big change in last couple of years. He added, “Maybe a couple years ago I don’t think I would be here with a four-shot lead right now going into tomorrow. It’s a slow process. Unfortunately I’m a person who learns from mistakes, like most of us I would say, and luckily I’ve been able to, and hopefully I can keep doing it tomorrow and just follow the same mindset I’ve had the last few days.”
A four-shot lead on a tough, windy, difficult and firm course can vanish quickly. A bogey followed by a birdie for the rival quickly erases two shots and when the course so tough that is enough to throw the most consistent of players off guard.
Rahm added, “Four shots on a windy, difficult, firm golf course is nothing. It’s me making two bogeys and somebody making one birdie and then suddenly it’s only a one-shot lead. Many times when I see myself three, four shots behind, like I did at Torrey, for example, I’ve always hoped for really bad conditions because if you play good, it’s the easiest way to make up a large deficit. Now I’ve got to flip that and hope I have good weather because if you play good, it’s the best way I have to possibly increase that lead and try to win by as many as possible. That’s going to be my mission tomorrow, just go play good golf and hopefully have a good cushion coming down the stretch, especially on 18 so I can just enjoy that walk.”