‘Jon Rahm Golf’ is purposefully boring, technically proficient and absolutely lethal
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The tip came from the Spanish Golf Federation.
Here was a raging bull whose English was spotty, whose swing was a bit funky because of a clubfoot on his right leg, and whose passion for the game was unmatched, owing to his upbringing in the Basque region of Spain.
Rahm was 17 at the time, just starting out at Arizona State. His introduction to college golf had been famously rocky. Tim Mickelson, then the Sun Devils’ coach, had taken a flier on Rahm, offering the highly ranked junior a scholarship sight unseen. But because of the language barrier, simple questions required complex mental gymnastics that produced confusing answers. Within Rahm’s first few weeks on campus, Mickelson confided in his assistant that he didn’t think the kid would last the first semester.
What needed no translation, however, was the quality of Rahm’s golf, and that’s how he got invited for the first time to the Titleist Performance Institute.
Waiting there was instructor Dave Phillips, who threw down a few balls in front of the burly teenager. A glowing recommendation from the federation might have gotten Rahm in the door, but his strike was so crisp, so powerful, so pure, that Phillips briefly stopped the session to flag down his business partner.
“The sound of the strike was just so different,” Phillips said. “I said to Jon – and this is why we’re probably still together – listen, a lot of people are going to try to change your swing. But don’t listen to them. I’ll teach you how to use it, and how to build it, and that’s what we did.”
What they’ve built – together – is a restless, relentless winning machine.
During a 30-hole marathon at a slow and soggy Augusta National, Rahm flipped a four-shot deficit into a four-shot romp Sunday at the 87th Masters. A prolific, consistent winner at every level, the 28-year-old has now claimed four victories this season, reascended to world No. 1 and become the first European to capture both the Masters and U.S. Open titles.
“I’m just witnessing what he’s capable of, what he wants,” caddie Adam Hayes said. “He’s not done. He’s going to win a lot of tournaments.”
Hearing stories from his brother about Rahm’s monster potential, Phil Mickelson was among the first to issue a public warning about the incoming Spanish storm. His belief in Rahm was only reinforced the first time they played together, when Rahm dropped a 62 on the Hall of Famer at Whisper Rock.
“I thought I played pretty good, and he gave me a pretty good beatdown,” Mickelson said. “So I’m not surprised at his success. It was obvious to me at a very young age that he was one of the best players in the world, even while he was in college. To see him on this stage is not surprising for anybody.”
In their decade-plus together, Phillips has spent much of his time “clearing the clutter” for Rahm. Drilling down on the fundamentals. Simplifying the message.
“I want him to play the most boring golf he can,” Phillips said. “It’s Jon Rahm Golf: hit the fairway, hit the green. Tiger Woods was pretty good at doing that.”
But that’s just technical proficiency. Rahm’s true genius – the reason why he’s become one of the game’s most feared closers – lies in his tireless and tenacious pursuit. Six of his 11 Tour victories have come when he trailed by at least two shots entering the final round, including each of his major titles.
“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try my hardest on every shot,” he said.
It’s how Rahm could four-putt his opening hole of the Masters and immediately bounce back with birdies on the next two holes.
It’s how he managed to stay in touch with halfway leader Brooks Koepka – and easily outpace the rest of the early-late starters – despite getting stuck on the bad end of the draw, with driving rain, whipping winds and a brutal chill pushing his second round into a third day.
And it’s how the four-shot deficit that he faced at 8:30 a.m. was halved within the first few minutes of the restart. That two-shot swing set the tone for a historic day in which Rahm bashed, bullied and eventually bulldozed the four-time major champion in a much-anticipated clash of alphas.
“When they get the bit between their teeth, they do not stop,” Phillips said. “One thing I’m most proud about is that he does not give up. Ever.”
So clinical was Rahm’s dissection, so thorough was his domination (fourth in driving accuracy, third in greens in regulation, first in scrambling!), that he and Hayes could laugh off a wild foul ball on the 72nd hole that careened into the trees. But striding up the final fairway for a 70-yard third shot, Hayes needled Rahm: “Hey, let’s get this thing up and down. Be a real champion. You don’t want to bogey this hole.”
“You read my mind,” Rahm replied.
Then he floated his third shot to 4 feet for a clinching par, his final-round 69 leaving him four shots clear of Mickelson and Koepka, the largest margin of victory in a major in three years.
“Some guys just have it where they can reach down and block it out,” Hayes said. “They talk about the ‘it’ factor. I think he’s got that.”
Averse to attention, Phillips didn’t stick around for the victory celebration. With a 9 p.m. flight to catch, he darted from the green jacket ceremony to the tournament practice area.
But before disappearing into the night, Phillips spun around and put the golf world on notice.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, “I don’t think you’ve seen his A-game yet.”
Then he winked.
“It’s a whole other gear, and I think you’re going to see it soon. Good night.”