Jon Rahm: ‘It’s a very different feeling when you stand on the 18th at St Andrews’

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The Spaniard is one of the favourites to lift the Claret Jug (Getty)
The Spaniard is one of the favourites to lift the Claret Jug (Getty)

Jon Rahm isn’t too proud to admit that the pain of near misses used to eat him up. He had always played with a fierce passion, but the only source of genuine “hate” had been reserved for golf’s most reviled honour: the best player not to win a major. It weighed heavily until last year’s US Open when he holed two behemoth putts to snatch victory at the last, and it made defeat easier to swallow when a turbulent final round wrecked his chances of keeping that title from Matt Fitzpatrick just a few weeks ago in Boston. “It’s a little bit easier to get over it,” he says. “And when I get home and see my [one-year-old] son, he doesn’t care what I’ve done, he just wants his dad. It helps me switch that flick from golf very, very quickly.”

It is not to say the fire has been doused a great deal either, though. Rahm has only played once since Brookline, at last week’s Scottish Open where he finished in a tie for 55th, and there have been quiet murmurs about a slight drop in form, even accounting for his win at the Mexico Championship in May. The whispers, it is safe to say, have not gone unnoticed.

“People like to talk so much, to me it’s funny,” he says. “I keep hearing all these things, I think I’ve played 13 events this year and I’ve had six top-10s and a win. I’m sorry if that’s bad form for people. I’m fully aware I haven’t played as well as last year, but that doesn’t happen very often. You’re a fool if you think in life you’re going to improve every single year. Just because Scottie Scheffler has won four times this year doesn’t mean I’m not still playing pretty damn good.

“It’s like people saying Lewis Hamilton lost his form, no, he’s just having one bad year. Tiger [Woods] had a bad year in ’98 and then came back in ’99 and won eight times. He had a bad 2004 and then won six times. It happens. It’s golf. What I would say is I needed a break. I became a father, I got important wins, I became No 1 in the world and after the Ryder Cup, yes, I needed a break.”

Rahm has copied a technique to help compartmentalise all the upheaval of the last two years from the documentary Free Solo, which charts the rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempts to scale El Capitan, a deadly 900m vertical rock face in Yosemite. Like Honnold, Rahm keeps two journals, one for his sport and the other for his personal life and often what might be troubling him remains undetected until he starts scribbling in a stream of consciousness. “It’s a process to unravel my mind,” he says. “A lot of times, I know there’s something bothering me but I don’t know what it is. Then I start writing and it’s like a meditational process and it comes out. It’s given me a very healthy state of mind. I’m much more than just a person who gets angry on the golf course, it’s just what I do matters a lot to me.”

Mention of Woods invariably leads Rahm to St Andrews this week. It is a course laced with Spanish history too, thanks to Seve Ballesteros’s heroics in 1984 when he holed a birdie putt at the last to beat Tom Watson to the Claret Jug. Right up until his death in 2011, Ballesteros maintained that it was “the happiest moment of my whole sporting life”. Rahm idolised Ballesteros but it was another of his heroes, Jose Maria Olazabal, who was paired with Woods in the final group in 2005. “I remember watching it on Sunday at home with my parents,” he says. “St Andrews has a connection with the past that you don’t really get in many other places and that’s what makes it so special. It’s a very different feeling when you stand on that 18th green. Of course, if I could choose, it would be there, I think almost all of us would choose St Andrews, but I won’t be picky.”

If the wind refuses to blow, it’s not hard to imagine a world where the best players dismantle the Old Course. Rahm has a fine record on the links, with Irish Open wins at Lahinch and Portstewart, and was already one of the longest players on Tour before he gained another 10 yards off the tee this season. The 27-year-old revealed last year that his distinctive short back swing is due to being born with a club foot, but a custom shoe is allowing him to put more weight on his right leg than ever before. “This might have been the first year I don’t have pain in my foot, leg or back,” he says. “My whole life I’ve played with quite a lot of discomfort.”

There is one point of soreness though that Rahm is tired of talking about. He has been an outspoken supporter of the PGA Tour throughout LIV Golf’s insurgence and is asked to reiterate that stance at almost every press conference. What he has always been clear in fearing most, though, is the damage the breakaway might do to the Ryder Cup. After all, Rahm may now be a major winner and Woods might no longer be the opponent to beat, but he maintains nothing will ever quite equal the thrill of their singles match on Sunday in 2019. “I don’t think anything with will ever come close to beating it,” he says. “I think that’s as high energy as I’ll be on a golf course, including winning an Open.”

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