Spain’s illustrious conveyor belt of golf talent means Jon Rahm was always destined to be subject to comparison. Here is the most uplifting one: not since a 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros finished second in the Open Championship of 1976 has a player from that country arrived on the scene with such statements of intent.
Rahm’s star continues to rise at such a pace that, on Saturday, bookmakers slashed his odds to win the Masters in a fortnight’s time. The 22-year-old has not even played competitively at Augusta National before.
The real deal? Phil Mickelson thinks so, branding the man from the Basque Country as a top 10 in the world player in waiting. Results back up Mickelson’s confidence: Rahm has already won on this, his maiden season on the PGA Tour, finished in a share of third at the WGC Mexico and now swaggered through to the last four of the WGC Match Play.
In Saturday afternoon’s quarter-final, Rahm absolutely demolished Soren Kjeldsen by 7&5. He had earlier taken just 14 holes to see off Charles Howell III. Rahmbo? Too right. Mickelson’s brother Tim looks to have made a seriously smart career move in leaving his coaching post at Arizona State University to manage the affairs of someone he rapidly identified as a star pupil.
“My expectations are usually really high,” Rahm said. “But once I come to tournaments, I forget about that. I’m here to play golf and play day-by-day. As I said many times, I really play to win. I compete to win. My mindset is winning.
“Once I get to tournaments I just focus on what I have to do, stick to my routine, breakfast, warm up, hit balls, and think about it each shot at a time. When it comes to it on the course, I really don’t think about anything more. Once I’m done I try to avoid golf and social media because otherwise I might get hung up on things like that and maybe not be mentally ready for what is to come.
“Truly, to play golf the way I did all 27 holes today, it really is amazing. Not only this afternoon, but I look at the whole day. There were not many shots that I missed. I don’t consider myself being a player like that. Today I just didn’t miss anything and I made the putts. I’m extremely proud of how I played. Hopefully I can keep it going tomorrow.”
Rahm plays in a flamboyant manner which has typified Spanish golf for so long. He has that perfect volume of confidence which, if it regresses into arrogance, does not have a negative impact on his demeanour. The 22-year-old is perfectly relaxed about playing golf in illustrious company and believes he should be doing precisely that. His acknowledgement of a broader picture was illustrated when he took out membership of the European Tour, thereby keeping one of Rahm’s key aspirations, Ryder Cup participation, alive. For all fortunes in this sport can alter on the bounce of a ball, it seems at best highly unlikely and at worst impossible that Rahm will not form part of Thomas Bjorn’s contingent in France next year.
“I try to stay humble,” Rahm said. “And honestly, I would have taken this [the year’s results] or just to win in general, I would have taken that for sure and being able to play in these events. I’m guaranteed now going to be top four in both of the WGCs that I’ve ever played. That wasn’t really on the plans. It really amazes me that I’m doing this, and that I’m playing the semi-final tomorrow.”
Should Rahm go on to win this event – he will play Bill Haas in the semi-final – he will factually endorse Mickelson’s ranking confidence. The only slight disappointment is that the duo will not face off on Sunday morning, Haas seeing off Mickelson at the last eight stage by 2&1. That result was something of a shock, Mickelson having breezed through earlier rounds.
Rahm may be the name on everyone’s lips but Dustin Johnson lingers with intent. The world No1 beat his namesake, Zach, 5&4 in the last 16 before securing a 3&2 success against Alex Noren.
Johnson has not been behind at any point over the five matches he has completed in the tournament. And yet, Noren gave him a terrific battle having clawed back a three-hole deficit to sit all square on the 13th tee. Johnson rallied over the closing stretch, with Noren due credit for his performance given it was produced while carrying a wrist injury. Johnson will face Hideto Tanihara in the semi-final, the 38-year-old from Hiroshima ending Ross Fisher’s run. Fisher has the reasonable consolation of a move inside the world top 50 and a Masters invite that will arrive as a consequence.