By Kent Gray at Jumeirah Golf Estates
He was presented with a coveted gong, grilled again for the secret to his giddy rise to pro superstardom and gracefully accepted the almost inevitable Seve comparison. And after it all, much like most every press conference he’s fronted this year, no one was more surprised by all the hullabaloo than Jon Rahm.
The 23-year-old boy from Barrika was officially confirmed as the European Tour’s 53rd Rookie-of-the-Year at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Tuesday after being wheeled in for a pre-DP World Tour Championship press conference.
Rahm can’t win the season long Race to Dubai but it seems he can’t lose either whatever his result come Sunday after his first four laps of JGE’s Earth course.
“Never in a million years I would have expected what I’ve done this year, and to accomplish what I’ve accomplished and to be at the position I’m sitting at in every aspect,” said Rahm.
“Top five in the world, fifth in the FedExCup, fourth in The Race to Dubai, third most of the year, Rolex Series champion [at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open], Torrey Pines [Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour] champion, playing the way I’ve played, I would have never foreseen this at all. Maybe I would have hoped for it but maybe I wouldn’t have believed I would be able to accomplish all this.
“So yeah, I’m really, really proud of what’s happened this year, and hopefully — I know it’s hard to keep it going, but hopefully I can keep it going.”
European Tour supremo Keith Pelley presented Rahm with the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie-of-the-Year trophy, mentioning how his hole out on the 4th hole at Portstewart had promoted a Spanish newspaper to suggest in a headline “That’s the way Seve would have won”.
“I haven’t checked the names of the people that won this, but I did see Sam Torrance, and I’m guessing a lot of other great names joining.”
For the record, Torrence won rookie honours in 1972. Rahm’s name is now etched in the same illustrations company alongside, among others: Brooks Koepka (2014), Peter Uihlein (2013), Martin Kaymer (2007), Ian Poulter (2000), Sergio Garcia (1999), Thomas Bjørn (1996), Colin Montgomerie (1988), José María Olazábal (1986), Sandy Lyle (1978), Nick Faldo (1977), Mark James (1976), Bernard Gallacher (1968) ad Tony Jacklin (1963).
So what’s the secret?
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Rahm to laughter from the smaller than usual press corps. “I feel like every star, planet or anything that needs to be aligned for me to accomplish all this has been aligned. I really don’t know why. It’s just, who knows. I’ve got myself in a lot of situations where I could get something done every week, a lot of tournaments, so that’s why I finished a lot of high finishes. I would just say preparation.
“I’ve been getting mentally ready for this for my rookie year for a very long time, and like a few others, I would be able to have a really successful rookie year. I just hope this is not the highlight of my career.”
The way Rahm waxed lyrical about Greg Norman’s 7017-yard, par 72 Earth design, don’t be surprised if there’s another 2017 highlight come Sunday.
It might be his debut at JGE but the Spaniard clearly likes what he sees, comparing the greens to Augusta National in terms of the small targets that need to be hit to get close to pins.
“It’s a golf course I’ve looked at on TV many, many times. With the lines of this golf course, I never understood how they shot so low every single time,” Rahm started.
“I do feel like it’s Augusta-like greens, but it’s kind of a little different. But the fact that they are big greens but they are all small areas. If you hit the shot to the correct area and you have a pretty doable putt, if you hit the wrong place on the green, you’re going to have a hard time making a 2-putt.
“So it’s a great golf course. It really suits me, especially off the tee, because I can free-wheel it a little bit. I can get to the tee and hit it as hard as I can. Those extra yards are always an advantage, but on a course like this where position to the green is very important., it’s a huge advantage and that’s probably why ball-strikers like Rory and Stenson have had huge success here.
“Hopefully I can end the year the same way I started it.”