Rahm appears on path to major success

By Will GrayJuly 9, 2017, 7:18 pm

The unfettered ascent of Jon Rahm reached new heights this week at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Even amid the small sample size afforded by a pro career that only recently eclipsed a year in length, Rahm's skill level has never been in doubt. He possesses all the shots, be they towering drives, holed-out pitch shots or center-cut putts.

We knew as much last summer, when he broke out of the gates and earned a PGA Tour card without bothering to toil for a month at the Web.com Tour Finals. We knew it when he surprised some but not many with his final-round surge en route to victory at the Farmers Insurance Open, a win that unlocked several doors and sparked a meteoric rise through the Official World Golf Rankings.

We even knew it when he experienced his first few hiccups: a missed cut at the Memorial followed by a disastrous performance at the U.S. Open that featured a short fuse and more club tosses than well-struck shots.

But the truly great players rarely stay down for long - just ask Jordan Spieth. And while Rahm is not yet in the same class as the two-time major champ, he took a big step in that direction by waxing the field at Portstewart Golf Club, winning by six shots and shattering the tournament scoring record with a 24-under total.

"If you had told me at the beginning of the week that I was going to win, I would have believed you because I always compete to win," Rahm said. "But if you had told me I was going to shoot 24 under in this weather, and win by six, I would have probably said, 'You're crazy. Absolutely crazy.' I would not have bet on myself doing that in a million years."

p>Rahm didn't just win one of the European Tour's biggest events, he demolished the field and had his way with a course on a day when rain and wind could have easily ballooned his score. After sharing the 54-hole lead, Rahm stepped out in front with a hole-out eagle on No. 4 and amassed a four-shot lead by the time he made the turn.

In a sport where players are so often measured by their ceiling, by how well they can perform when everything is clicking, Rahm demonstrated Sunday that his is as high as nearly any other in today's game.

"It's a big moment because now I know what I can do when I'm in a relaxed mindset. I've always thought I had to be a little intense, but this week it was the complete opposite, kind of like how it was at Torrey Pines," Rahm said. "When I do that, I seem to play my best golf. I mean, when I was 8 under par teeing it up on the 15th hole, with no bogeys in this weather, I would not have believed it the same way I could not believe I shot 6 under on the back nine at Torrey Pines."

With another trophy on his mantle, the questions will inevitably shift to what's next for the 22-year-old sensation. And the next logical step will be for Rahm to snag a maiden major title, given that he is now once again among the top 10 in the world rankings and will be placed on the short list to do so at every major until, well, he does so.

Rahm has earned his spot in that discussion, but that hardly means that a major win is a fait accompli. One need only look to the two fiery Spaniards to which he is so often compared to see how divergent career paths can be: Seve Ballesteros won the first of five majors at the 1979 Open just months after turning 22, while it took Sergio Garcia the better part of two decades before he finally slipped into his green jacket.

Oddsmakers will tell you that it's likely Rahm's first major falls somewhere in the gulf between those two points, though it's far more likely he wins one at 22 than has to wait until 37. And when he steps to the tee at Royal Birkdale in two weeks, he'll bring with him a bevy of momentum from a dominant effort.

"When I keep that (relaxed) mindset, I know what I'm capable of," Rahm said. "I know I can win a Rolex Series event by six shots, and it's not easy to do. I'm kind of learning more about myself, and what I'm capable of. ... This is a huge confidence booster."

When the cloud of controversy surrounding his questionable ball mark dissipates, what will remain is a reminder that prior to his 23rd birthday, Rahm has already shown himself to be one of the most dynamic forces in professional golf, and one that fans can hope to enjoy for the next quarter century or longer.

It was a mesmerizing performance, and a stark reminder of just how much talent he possesses - even as it left us wondering what his next act will be.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.