Rahm exceeding expectations in young career

By Rex HoggardMay 12, 2017, 9:00 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In practice the void between potential and production, at least in golf, is a three-shot par 5 with a couple forced carries thrown in.

As a rule rather than exception, can’t-miss kids almost always miss. Some go quietly, slipping into mediocrity without much fanfare; while others crash loudly into oblivion.

An actual prodigy, a genuine article who exceeds even the most lofty expectations is the most uncommon, an urban legend managers and equipment manufacturers search for but rarely find.

There were familiar conversations when Jon Rahm turned pro last fall, hushed comments about how good the Spaniard could be and a rush to sign the would-be world-beater to an endorsement deal.

Could the 22-year-old be the real deal? Would he be able to succeed where so many others have failed? In just 23 starts the answer is starting to become a resounding yes.

Rahm finished tied for third in just his third event as a pro (Quicken Loans National) and was runner-up in just his seventh (RBC Canadian Open).

He’s missed just a single cut and won his first PGA Tour event in January at the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s gone head-to-head with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and even finished fourth last week following a brazen attempt at the post in Wilmington, N.C.

Oh, and he’s back at it again this week with rounds of 68-72 for a spot within the top 10 at The Players in his first start at TPC Sawgrass. But then every start is his first start.

“I still compete to win, my mindset doesn't change,” Rahm said following another windy and wild day at The Players. “I'm a lot more experienced, I make less mistakes, I feel like I find myself more comfortable every day in this position and I don't think anything's changed. I just see myself trying to win tournaments.”

But if Rahm’s results have exceeded those early expectations, his play has only given fuel to a higher bar.

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Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo said Rahm, who is currently No. 12 in the world, will be the next world No. 1, and Phil Mickelson refuses to play practice round “games” against him. A few months back one veteran Tour player even went so far as to make a friendly wager with another frat brother that the Spaniard would be inside the top 10 within two years.

Turns out it doesn’t appear it will take near that long.

Not that anyone is interested in travelling down the World Ranking rabbit hole, the minimum divisor used by the number crunchers is 40 events over a two-year window. Rahm has just 23 starts, which means he’s done more with less than anyone not named Dustin Johnson.

“Jon Rahm's a superstar, he's just amazing to the entire world of golf,” said Rafa Cabrera Bello, who was at 5 under and a stroke clear of Rahm after Round 2. “I played with him many practice rounds now, I obviously got to be more friends with him and it's just the amount of confidence that he has, but also proper based confidence on him.”

His play, which is defined by what most would call an unorthodox swing, has been nothing short of spectacular, but it’s been his presence of mind that may impress the most.

“I think he’s very comfortable with all of the surroundings, you know, with the atmosphere,” said Martin Kaymer, who was paired with Rahm for the first two days at TPC Sawgrass. “It seems like he has been here already for a couple of years. He’s very relaxed with the people, he doesn’t feel intimidated much. Usually it takes two or three years to get used to it, but he got used to it fairly quick. I think that’s a big difference.”

There was a telling moment last week when he forged his way into contention at the Wells Fargo Championship and talked of being “scared” over a shot.

When was the last time he was scared?

“I wouldn't say scared, maybe too tentative or too passive, trying to not be aggressive, try to not make mistakes and try to hit the shots. That's what I mean by scared,” he explained.

Much of this is premature. Great players are measured at the major championships and Rahm’s record on this front is best considered a work in progress. But that does nothing to mitigate his early body of work or his potential.

His resume aside, Rahm has many advantages as he ascends the World Ranking, including his unique swing that will likely temper his desire to tinker in the pursuit of perfection.

He’s already won, so there is no pressure to get that breakthrough, and his World Ranking is already high enough to assure him access to the game’s biggest events.

Regardless of what happens this week at The Players, Rahm has already proven to be the rarest of breeds – a golf unicorn.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.