From the archives: How Rahm turned into a star

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 30, 2017, 12:34 am

In this feature from 2015, Ryan Lavner chronicled how Jon Rahm helped Arizona State build something special after moving from Spain and learning a new language.


LAS VEGAS – The conversation was painfully awkward.

In the fall of 2012, Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson picked up 17-year-old Jon Rahm from the Phoenix Airport, shuttled him to the ASU campus for the first time and immediately realized the massive learning curve ahead.

At best, Rahm’s English was choppy. Simple questions – What do you want for dinner? – required complex mental rerouting. For weeks, Rahm would listen to a question in English, translate it in his mind in Spanish, think about what he wanted to reply in Spanish, and then finally translate it back to English. The process could take 10, 20, sometimes even 30 seconds, all for Rahm to respond with a short answer that didn’t always make sense.

“I went to my assistant (Michael Beard) and said, ‘I don’t think this kid is going to make it,” Mickelson says now. “I thought he might be a kid that fails out after a semester or a year.”

Not exactly.

Instead, Rahm has embraced the challenges of learning a third language, blossomed in his new environment and teamed with Germany’s Max Rottluff to form what is statistically the most potent 1-2 combination in the country. Their dynamic play this season has powered the Sun Devils to a No. 6 national ranking, and they headed into this week’s Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters riding their longest winning streak since the late-’90s.

And Rahm, now a 20-year-old junior, has become one of the most sought-after prospects in the country.

He is the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world.

He put on a record-breaking display at the 2014 World Amateur Team Championship.

He has won four college events in two-and-a-half years, including once this fall.

He posted the best finish by an amateur in a PGA Tour event since 2008.

He is an envy-inducing combination of power and imagination, crammed into a 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound frame. More than his physical attributes, though, Rahm is popular, fun-loving and gregarious. He’ll talk to anyone, about anything, for any amount of time. For this story he engaged in a lively 25-minute chat in front of the clubhouse at Southern Highlands. 

He’s come a long ways since he first arrived in the Arizona desert.


RAHM WAS A HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED junior player in Spain, but to Mickelson’s surprise he was lightly recruited by the Western schools. The University of San Francisco wanted Rahm first, but the program thought he was a year younger and didn’t have room in the scholarship budget. With seemingly no other options, he planned to study for a year in Madrid and then transfer the credits to San Francisco, but Mickelson became intrigued after looking at Rahm’s international results and receiving a tip from one of his contacts with the Spanish Golf Federation.

So, without having even met Rahm in person, Mickelson took a chance and extended him an offer that would keep Rahm from having to wait a year at home.

Upon arriving in Phoenix, Rahm essentially started from scratch. Because he didn’t take an official visit, he wandered aimlessly around the big campus. He didn’t know where his dorm was, where he could buy pillows and sheets, where the facilities were located.

After a few weeks, teammate Alberto Sanchez said, “I looked at Tim and said, ‘This kid isn’t going to make it. He doesn’t understand a word you’re saying.’”

During team workouts, Rahm couldn’t follow along with Mickelson’s instructions, but he nodded politely or asked the coach to repeat the command. All Rahm really knew was that the exercises hurt, bad.

“I was so lost,” he said.

Fortunately for Rahm, he had a Spanish-speaking teammate in Sanchez, so they communicated with each other but in the process alienated themselves from the rest of the team.

Tired of having to hurdle the language barrier, Mickelson told Rahm and Sanchez during a fall practice round that they’d have to do 10 burpees – the miserable calorie-burning exercise – for every Spanish word they uttered while around the rest of the team.

“It ended up bad for Alberto,” Rahm said with a grin, “because he was just trying to help me out.”

Yet it became a blessing for Rahm. Forced to learn English, he proved a quick study. He read books, watched TV and movies, listened to music. His vocabulary grew, and so did his confidence, to the point now that he’s the chattiest member of the team.

“Now,” Sanchez said, “it’s strange if we do speak Spanish.”


THE GOLF? OH, that was never an issue for Rahm.

He had a few rocky starts early, but the turning point came during the Pac-12 Preview at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon. After the practice round there, Rahm approached Mickelson and said, “Coach, I think this course is pretty easy.”

Mickelson laughed. Pumpkin Ridge has hosted a women’s major, a U.S. Amateur, an LPGA event. It is anything but easy.

Rahm blew up in the first round, so the coach gave him the classic Mickelson needle: “77 … that’s easy, huh?”

“I feel pretty good, just wait,” Rahm replied, and sure enough, the next two rounds he shot scores of 64 and 65 and lost by one. Two weeks later, he won his first tournament, becoming the first ASU freshman in nearly a decade to accomplish the feat.

That spring, he tacked on another title and shot a tournament-record 61 in the opening round of the NCAA Championship. (He eventually tied for second.) His scoring average (71.37) was the best by an ASU freshman since 1985.

Since then, he has added a pair of titles to his college résumé, including a W this fall, while dazzling teammates with awesome power and an imaginative short game.

Like many young Spaniards, he was inspired as a kid while watching clips of the late Seve Ballesteros. When he was 13, Rahm spotted Miguel Angel Jimenez on the range, pulled up a chair and watched for an hour and a half as the ageless wonder hit balls. But it wasn’t monotonous ball-beating. At one point, Jimenez aimed at a target just 60 yards away, turned the face of his 4-iron wide open and hit high, soft flop shots onto the green.

“It was beautiful to watch,” said Rahm, and so he’s incorporated some of that artistry into his own practice routine. Watch him for a half hour and he’ll work through his entire bag by hitting shots high and low, with a curve both ways. On the chipping green, he’ll practice by using every club but driver. That way when it comes time for him to use a 60-degree wedge during a tournament round, it seems like no big deal.

“He’s one player that I look up to and it’s like, you know, the guy is just better (than me),” Sanchez said. “The guy is gonna make it. He’s gonna be on Tour. He’s gonna be successful. He’s gonna contend for majors. He’s gonna win major championships.”

How do you know?

“Because he knows it,” Sanchez said. “Therefore we all know it.”


HEY, YOU PROBABLY KNOW it now too, if you caught any of the Phoenix Open coverage. Rahm was the burly kid wearing the No. 42 ASU jersey with “Rahmbo” emblazoned on the back.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, he finished in a tie for fifth that week, the best finish by an amateur in a Tour event since 2008. If he were a professional, he would have earned just shy of $250,000.

No doubt he was surprised by the high finish – especially coming off a winter break in Spain during which he played little golf, with his home course frozen and under 3 feet of snow – but he returned to campus brimming with confidence.

“It made me realize how good I am,” he said. “Probably 10 times better than I thought.”

Mickelson believes Rahm will be a European Ryder Cupper by the age of 30, and that’s probably too conservative. When Rahm lets loose on the driver he’s ridiculously long – 330-plus, which is how he’s led all of college golf in par-5 scoring and eagles made over past three seasons – but he also possesses a deft touch around the greens.  

“Jon doesn’t just want to be the best college player,” Mickelson said. “He wants to be the best player in the world."

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.