- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Was it the Nappy Factor? Was it all those mysterious sessions with a bomb disposal expert? Or was it, as Jon Rahm suggested “the Covid karma” that helped him make his major breakthrough in such dramatic fashion at Torrey Pines?
In truth, the 26-year-old’s character is as complex as his talent is stunning. And his first major victory required all three and more. “The stars aligned,” Rahm said.
The upshot is that his country at last has a US Open trophy to add to all those green jackets and claret jugs and his continent has the world No 1 as it heads into an away Ryder Cup in September.
Certainly the late Seve Ballesteros, his inspiration, would have been proud and Padraig Harrington, his European captain, would have been delighted at the outrageous manner with which Rahm stole the tournament from perennial runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.
On a back nine which had witnessed Rahm stage a ball-striking clinic, only to shave the lip on multiple occasions, it seemed as if he would have to put it down as another learning day, alongside his previous quartet of top-fives in the majors. The raging Rahm of the past would have combusted as he saw the chances slip by, but this time he was intensely animated but also crucially centred.
On the 17th, Rahm detonated. The downhill 25-footer was hardly inviting, especially as it was left-to-right, the toughest putt in golf. But in one of those frozen-in-time moments of claity, when a human only sees the opening and not the hurdle, Rahm made it and went into a fist-pump frenzy.
Twenty minutes later, the explosives went off again, Rahm holing an 18-footer for the birdie that was to prove the difference. In 2008, that 18th green had witnessed Tiger Woods leap around after similar Us Open audaciousness and, in emotion at least, this was its equal.
Of course, Rahm had his own personal history on that putting surface, as it was there in 2017 when he converted the eagle to win his first PGA Tour title. But as memorable and as resonant as that triumph no doubt was, it was another regular event that was uppermost in the minds of the observers.
Two weeks before, at the Memorial tournament, he had doubled up in torment after being told — moments after a third-round 64 including a hole-in-one — that he had tested positive for coronavirus and was obliged to withdraw despite being six shots clear.
Rahm was blessedly asymptomatic, but there was a marked fear of how he would react. Rahm’s response was sheer class, blaming nobody and nothing. He went into quarantine vowing to be ready for Torrey. From grim isolation to wild celebration in a few magnanimous steps.
Immediately after his US Open victory — in which he became just the fourth champion to finish birdie-birdie, emulating greats Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson — he told the TV interviewer that he is “a big believer in karma” and sensed that “good things were coming”. Later, in the media tent, he put substance to that mindset. “Coming in here without having practised much, relaxed me,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I play bad, I have an excuse: hey, I had Covid.’”
There was so much more at play in his suddenly dead-eyed demeanour, however. By the denouement on Sunday, he was clearly expecting to prevail and he was not about to allow himself any mitigation. “I still had that grit, but almost like each miss bothered me less,” he said. “I believe it's because I really set out to be an example for my son. I've done some stuff in the past on the golf course that I'm not proud of, and I wish I could eliminate it.
“But I've accepted it. I'm not saying it's going to be smooth sailing forever more but I feel like that Sunday of the [US]PGA [where he shot a 68 to finish eighth] changed things. My mental game was really good, and it was the same thing at Memorial. Mentally, I was really, really well.
“It followed into this week. In the past I've gotten frustrated in the US Open, made a load of birdies, but a ton of bogeys and double-bogeys. This week I switched it around. I had my dad on the green and Kepa [his two-month-old baby] and that means there were three generations of Rahms there. I know he doesn't understand, but I want to make my son proud.”
Somewhere in Merseyside, Keith Elliott would have been nodding. It is 25 years since the renowned betting analyst expounded his “Nappy Factor” theory — that with the perspective of fatherhood a golfer becomes so much freer — and the fact Rahm actually had his baby in his arms as he walked towards the scorer’s hut only lent the notion more credence.
Perhaps it was the missing piece in the golfing nirvana that Rahm has been working towards since before he turned pro in 2016.
A brilliant college player who defied the life-changing move from Barrika, a small town in the Basque country, to attend Arizona State University and be crowned world amateur No 1 — he realised his tempest tendency could threaten his dreams and sought out Joseba del Carmen, once detailed in the security services.
"I grew up at the same course where Joseba played," Rahm told Telegraph Sport. "He has known me since I was young and I knew he was in charge of deactivating bombs, which sounded pretty cool. Once he retired, he discovered coaching and asked me if I wanted help. I said yes. That was in 2014."
If anyone can work out how to achieve that mindset articulated so succinctly by snooker legend Steve Davis — "Play as if it means nothing when it means everything" — it is surely someone who managed to keep relaxed while diffusing devices that could blow off his head.
It is known that Del Carmen used quantum physics to assist Rahm, but little else about their relationship has been explained. Del Carmen’s task has been to keep the fire burning, but educate Rahm in how to resist destroying tee-boxes or hurling clubs. The trick is finding the path line between passion and self-destruction — a line as thin as a wire on an IED.
It is still a work in progress but the message Del Carmen sent his student in the wake of Torrey signifies that a rubicon has been crossed and the counter will now be ticking up not down.
“Thank you for the work, enthusiasm, ambition, responsibility, commitment and, above all, for allowing me to accompany you,” it said. “Enjoy and live this experience! And tomorrow for more…”