Jon Rahm never imagined he’d be defending the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as Europe’s second highest-ranked player. Other legends aren’t surprised at all.
By Keny Gray
Phil Mickelson openly touted Jon Rahm for greatness, Johnny Miller too.
“He doesn’t have any weaknesses,” Lefty said after the Spaniard rode five birdies and two eagles to a closing 65 and a record-setting six-shot victory at last year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart in Londonderry. “Every part of his game is a strength.”
Given Rahm’s manager is Mickelson’s younger brother and caddy Tim, you could dismiss those comments as hyperbole topped with lashings of nepotism.
But Miller clearly agreed with the Mickelson boys, the two-time major winning Hall of Famer turned TV analyst saying Rahm has future No.1 “written all over his head.”
Fast-forward 12 months and Rahm is living up to the heady billing. Victory at the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November has quickly snowballed into a second PGA Tour triumph at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January and a third European Tour title at his home Open de Espana in April, a week after he’d finished solo fourth at The Masters.
Indeed, the 23-year-old Spaniard contemplates his $7 million DDF Irish Open defence at majestic Ballyliffin Golf Club ranked 5th in the Official World Golf Rankings (after finishing T-5 at the HNA Open de France on Sunday). It’s hard to believe Rahm was playing collegiate golf in the U.S. little more than a 24 months ago given his meteoric rise in the paid ranks. Then again it’s hardly surprising when you consider he won 11 titles playing for Tim Mickelson’s Arizona State, second only to Lefty Mickelson’s record 16 individual titles for the Sun Devils. Among his amateur triumphs were individual gold at the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy world amateur teams championship and low amateur honours at the 2016 U.S. Open just before he turned professional. His total of 60 weeks is the most of any of the 30 players to ever ascend to the summit of the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
The sometimes temperamental (perhaps that is his only weakness, Phil?) Ryder Cupper-in-waiting seems detained to become No.1, or at least give the Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, repeat U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth an almighty hurry up atop the global game.
Rahm’s -24 264 aggregate at Portstewart surpassed Bernhard Banger’s -21 Irish Open record and sealed his place in history as the fourth Spaniard after Ballesteros, Olazabal and Garcia to win one of the European Tour’s premier events. Then, as now, the Spaniard couldn’t quite believe what he’d achieved.
I know my name is going to be in the [DDF Irish Open] trophy forever now, but it still seems hard to believe.
“I know the trophy is right next to me and my name is going to be there forever now, but it seems hard to believe that it’s happened,” said Rahm. “It’s kind of somewhat surreal. I just look at it and I see Nick Faldo, I see Jose Maria Olazabal, I see Nick Faldo again, I see Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Seve. That’s a great list of great — [the] greatest European Tour players ever, and to have my name next to it, and the last one, Rory McIlroy, it’s so special.”
Making it to Le Golf National for the Ryder Cup would be special too and seems an inevitability, not that Rahm, a Rolex ambassador, is taking anything for granted in the fourth of the European Tour’s eight premier Rolex Series events on Ballyliffin’s newer Glashedy Links.
“I’m excited about it and excited that it counts more towards the Ryder Cup because then it’s easier for us to play both tours. Those [Rolex Series] events serve as a highlight for the year.
“It’s my first Ryder Cup year and I’m really excited to hopefully be on the team, I’m going to work hard to try and get on the team and I can’t wait to hopefully bring the cup back home to Europe.”
We bet Lefty and Johnny weren’t thinking of Ryder Cup redemption for Europe when they peddled Rahm’s potential a year ago. But it seems the Spaniard is grinding ever closer to greatness.