In life and sport there are definitive “before” and “after” moments. Change is a constant force and golfer Jon Rahm is well aware of this when he arrived in late July at Muirfield Village to compete in The Memorial Tournament. Before that event commenced Rahm was viewed as an extremely talented golfer but still making his journey upwards.
When the 25-year-old stepped off the 18th green following final round play and emerged the victor, the obligatory greeting from event host and all-time golfing great Jack Nicklaus, provided a demonstrable “after” moment with a clear turning of the page for the uber talented Spaniard. Rahm became the 5th youngest to reach the toping of the rankings behind others such as Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Each of the aforementioned have won major championships — Rahm is seeking to join that club when the 102nd PGA Championship at Harding Park begins this Thursday.
The Memorial triumph was even more special because the win elevated Rahm to the top of the world rankings — a first for him and only the second golfer from his country to do so. The first being the late great Seve Ballesteros. It is no overstatement to say Ballesteros was Europe’s golfing answer to Arnold Palmer. Seve brought with him a flair for the dramatic — a resolute belief capable in producing stellar play when the biggest moments were being contested. Ballesteros burst upon professional golf as a 19-year-old nearly winning the 1976 Open Championship. Seve would earn his first major with an Open Championship win at 22 and in the years that followed became the central figure in a European golf renaissance and Ryder Cup domination. Sadly, Ballesteros died at the young age of 54 after succumbing to a brain tumor in 2011.
Rahm’s ascension to the top of the ranking lasted only one week when Justin Thomas captured the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational event in Memphis this past weekend. But his rise to the top spot will likely reoccur during his ascending career.
After a stellar amateur career Rahm joined the PGA TOUR in 2016 following a low amateur finish at the US Open at Oakmont. By early 2017 he won his first professional event — The Farmers Insurance Open in a grandiose manner sinking a 60-foot eagle putt at the final hole. His steady play meant a position on the 2018 European Ryder Cup team in Paris and he was keen to the challenge in beating Woods during the final day singles portion. Rahm now has four PGA TOUR wins in tandem with 11 professional wins worldwide.
Rahm’s style of play is geared towards a power game emphasis in alignment with a number of emerging stars playing professional golf now. Unlike Ballesteros, who displayed virtuoso command of his clubs and was capable of shaping shots to fit whatever moment faced. Rahm is clearly refining his style of play to work in tandem with the strength he certainly provides.
The emotional fire within Rahm was evident early on in his professional career and there were moments when bouts of anger at inopportune times escalated to the point in being a distraction. That fire is now being harnessed and like Ballesteros it provides fueling pump for him to harness his golfing acumen. Undoubtedly, a good bit of that emerging maturity has been bolstered by his marriage to college sweetheart Kelly Cahill in 2019.
Rahm has quickly climbed the golfing mountain in a compressed time period. Being able to win multiple times on the PGA TOUR is a serious demonstration of talent, however, being able to win a major event is the ultimate proving ground and one Rahm is eager to face in San Francisco.
The shadow of Seve Ballesteros is a colossal one. Rahm is not looking to be the “next” Seve but in his own way carve out a new chapter in the rich contributions made to golf from those who call Spain home.
Harding Park will clearly illustrate if Rahm is dead set in returning to the top of the golfing apex –this time around doing so for a prolonged period of time.
We shall see.