June 23, 2016
The late Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros continues to influence golfers, including Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Jordan Niebrugge, who make their professional debuts Thursday at the US PGA National tournament.
The newcomers received key advice from Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal, both of whom were inspired by Ballesteros, while the five-time major winner is a role model for Rahm, the low amateur at last week's US Open.
"I've really been studying Seve and how he had that charisma, that special thing to bring people closer," Rahm said. "That's something I look up to, something I would like to do one day."
Ballesteros, who died in 2011 at age 54 of brain cancer, won three British Opens and two Masters titles as well as a host of fans with his skill and passion, with Olazabal and Garcia following in his footsteps as Spanish champions.
"Those three guys are idols in Spain," Rahm said. "I really look up to Seve, most on his character, the way he brought people together. Because of them I play golf nowadays. Two major champions, Sergio coming in as a 19-year-old the way he did, it really is a reference to know if they did it, I can do it too."
Rahm wore blue and white at the US Open as a tribute to Ballesteros, who shared the lead entering the 1983 US Open final round at Oakmont but settled for fourth.
"I put the colors on knowing he would be out there in heaven looking down on me and helping me out," he said. "They gave me some extra confidence that if I was wearing those colors I had to honor him. Hence the up and down on 18 to make the cut. It had some special meaning to me."
Rahm, 21, won a world amateur title after Olazabal said he needed to improve his short game. Rahm also served notice of his skills by sharing 23rd last week at Oakmont and fifth at last year's Phoenix Open, the best PGA result by an amateur since Chris Wood's fifth at the 2008 British Open.
"That week gave me the confidence I needed to know I could compete with the best," Rahm said.
Niebrugge, 22, shared sixth at last year's British Open, the best finish and lowest score by an amateur at St. Andrews. His major memory from the week came when he strode up the final hole alongside Garcia, who passed along some Seve-esque advice.
"The thing that probably sticks the most was walking up 18 the last day with Sergio and everybody on all sides," Niebrugge said.
"It was pretty special," he added. "He just told me to never forget this because you don't really get to see this type of stage too often. So I definitely won't forget that. I get chills every time thinking about that so it was pretty awesome."
Rahm is hoping little will change in the pro ranks, except for getting the paychecks.
"It has never been about the money for me. Since I was a kid, I had the dream to become a great player," he said. "It really shouldn't make a difference. If you make the least amount of strokes, you're going to make the most amount of money."