JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – That massive oak tree on the left side of the first fairway, the one that requires a 320-yard carry? Covered it.
Those sky-high pines down the right side of No. 10, the ones that force just about everyone to hit 3-wood short of the bunkers? Cleared it.
That sliver of a fairway on the 12th hole, the one seemingly miles away, through the chute in the trees, with the severe bend to the left? Split it.
“He was hitting from places I didn’t know you could hit from out there,” said Beau Hossler, who had the misfortune of being matched up against long-driving Arizona State junior Jon Rahm Wednesday at the 114th U.S. Amateur.
Fresh off his Western Amateur victory, Hossler, 19, was arguably the hottest college kid on the planet. The Texas sophomore is typically long and straight off the tee (albeit 30 yards shorter than Rahm), but his driver abandoned him in the Round of 64. Needing to put the ball in play on a ball-striker’s course like Atlanta Athletic Club, Hossler instead “hit it everywhere.”
Three down early, Rahm took the outright lead midway through the back nine and closed out the match with a 15-footer on 16.
“There’s not much you can do,” Hossler said, shrugging.
“Jon is just a great match-play player,” Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson said by phone. “If he hits a bad shot, he has such a good short game that he’s probably going to make par. In match play, if a guy is able to hit it that far, and also have soft hands, then he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Which Rahm has been all summer.
The 19-year-old advanced to match play at the British Amateur. He won three of his four matches, including the decisive point, during Europe’s stunning victory at the Palmer Cup. He helped Spain win the European Team Championship. Two weeks ago, he captured the Spanish Amateur, shooting 64 on the final day to erase a six-shot deficit and win by three.
“Best summer of my life,” he said.
During his two years in Tempe, Rahm has amassed an impressive résumé, with three victories, an eye-opening 21-under performance and a record-tying 61 at the 2012 NCAAs. He has put his power to good use, leading the nation in eagles made in both 2012 and ’13.
Unfair, perhaps, but it’s a surprise that the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder doesn’t win more often, given his incredible length. The missing piece was a rock-solid mental game, so Rahm sought out a member at his home club, Joseba Del Carmen, a renowned personal coach and motivator. In a matter of months, Rahm says he’s seen a drastic transformation.
“He needed to find a way to let the emotion out, but also to not let it affect him going forward,” Mickelson said.
Well, the fist pumps were flying Wednesday, and for good reason.
After cutting his deficit to 1 down at the turn, Rahm ripped a 390-yard drive on the 442-yard 10th. From 70 yards away, he skipped his wedge shot into the cup for an eagle-2.
Two holes later, on the 551-yard 12th, Rahm pounded a 360-yarder that cut the corner. After a 200-yard 7-iron, he poured in the 10-foot eagle putt – his second in three holes – to take his first lead of the match. Three consecutive pars was enough to take another hole, and when his birdie putt fell on 16, he was on to the Round of 32, where he will face fellow Pac-12 player Rico Hoey of USC.
“He just smokes it,” Hossler said of Rahm. “Sometimes a guy is going to get hot and beat you. I’d be upset if I felt like I had handed him the match, but he went out and won it.”
And to think, just 48 hours ago, Rahm was in danger of leaving early. An opening 75 in stroke play left him well outside the cut line, but he told Mickelson on Monday night that he’d simply gotten unlucky. In fact, he said he had never driven the ball better.
If the strategy sounds familiar, Rahm, the 14th-ranked amateur in the world, watched Rory McIlroy blast moon shots at Hoylake and Valhalla and decided to adopt a similar philosophy here.
“He just steps up and crushes it,” said Tim Campbell, a local caddie at AAC who is on Rahm’s bag this week. “If there’s any bunker in play, 300 out, he doesn’t even think about it.”
“He reminds me a lot of my brother,” Mickelson said. “Great driver, great putter, great hands, aggressive. The biggest difference is Jon’s willingness to hit driver – and how impressive it is.”