Spanish star Jon Rahm isn’t comfortable with the comparison. Especially since it pertains to his country’s greatest golfer, the legendary Seve Ballesteros.

“It’s hard to compare yourself with your hero,” Rahm said.

But there is a shared trait that all of Spain’s major-winning pros – from Ballesteros to José Maria Olazábal to Sergio García and now Rahm, a two-time major winner – seem to possess during the heat of competition.

It’s the burning desire to win, and Rahm gladly accepts the emotional baton that powered Ballesteros to five major titles, 90 professional wins and a collection of career-defining moments as a Ryder Cup player and captain. No one will ever be able to match Ballesteros’ intensity, but Rahm knows the same spirit lives inside him.

“I bring maybe not as much passion as him, but I definitely feel like nowadays, I have as much passion for the game as the next guy,” he explained. “I don’t think anybody has more than me … I don’t think many people love this game as much as I do.”

It’s easy for Rahm – and frankly, all other competitors at LIV Golf Andalucía – to think this week about Ballesteros, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 54 due to cancer.

The tournament’s course, the iconic Real Club Valderrama, hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup. It was the first time the biennial competition was played in Continental Europe, and Ballesteros captained the European team to a one-point victory. It also started a dominant run by Europe, which has now won seven consecutive times on home soil.

Even though Ballesteros didn’t swing a club that week in 1997, that Ryder Cup victory is considered among the top achievements of his Hall of Fame career.

“The 1997 Ryder Cup here was so special and what he was able to achieve as a captain,” said García, the Fireballs GC captain who has won three pro tournaments at Valderrama and is now an honorary club member. “I feel Seve’s presence in many, many places.”

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Rahm, born in Barrika in Basque Country, was just two years old at the time, too young to fully appreciate the moment. But friends of his parents attended the event, and those friends introduced his dad to the game. Obviously, he passed on that interest to his son, who has of course taken things to the next level as one of golf’s most celebrated modern-day stars.

After Rahm won the Masters last year on what would’ve been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday – and on the 40th anniversary of Ballesteros’ second victory at Augusta National – he referenced the 1997 Ryder Cup during his interview inside Butler Cabin.

“History of the game is a big part of why I play and one of the reasons why I play, and Seve being one of them,” Rahm said. “If it wasn’t for that Ryder Cup in ‘97, my dad and I talk about it all the time, we don’t know where I would be or where as a family we would be.

“For me to get it done on the 40th anniversary of his win, his birthday, on Easter Sunday, it’s incredibly meaningful. To finish it off the way I did – an unusual par, very much a Seve par. It was in a non-purposeful way, a testament to him, and I know he was pulling for me today.”

Rahm continues to channel Seve’s spirit today, especially as it pertains to golf’s future in Spain.

When Rahm made his decision to join LIV Golf last December as captain of the expansion Legion XIII team, he talked about his desire to grow the number of golfers in the country, just as Ballesteros did during his career.

He recalled hearing a story that when Ballesteros won his first major, the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham, the Spanish network televising the tournament ended its coverage prematurely in order to switch to horse racing, perceived as a more popular sport at the time. But through Ballesteros’ continued success, golf became a must-watch in the country. And then eventually a must-play for many of his fans.

“I don’t know if he ever had a plan on doing it directly, but when he started playing golf, I believe there was 11,000 licensed golfers in Spain,” Rahm said. “By the time he died, it was around 350,000. So, times 30.”

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The most recent number of registered golfers in Spain, according to the Royal Spanish Golf Federation in 2023, is 298,959. Rahm is hoping to make half the impact that Ballesteros had. From a pure numbers standpoint, it’s a lofty goal, but the 29-year-old thinks he now has the platform he hopes will help him achieve it.

“If, when I die, we are exactly times 15, then we’re in the millions in Spain,” Rahm said. “That’s obviously a massive impact. Yes, it’s a very daunting task … but I would consider it a massive success.”

Ballesteros and Rahm were born 37 years apart, and their paths only crossed once. It happened when Rahm was a young teen attending an awards ceremony. Both Ballesteros and Olazábal were there. “I can’t tell exactly how old I was, but I can tell you I was young enough to not know who Seve was,” Rahm said.

After receiving his award from Olazábal, Rahm began to walk away. Ballesteros then came up to him, offering a congratulatory handshake. “I almost forgot to shake his hand,” Rahm recalled, “which I would’ve regretted for the rest of my life.”

Rahm now has the rest of his life to make an impact in his homeland. The first big step starts this week at Valderrama, where he will be arguably the biggest attraction, along with Garcia, for the home fans. He would love nothing more than to post his first individual title after celebrating three team wins this season.

But he has no illusions about reproducing the appeal Ballesteros once had in Spain.

“Seve, man, his charisma will be unmatched,” Rahm said. “I don’t think that can be taken to that level in a very long time, because he was such a special man.”

Images: Supplied

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