Rahm the true can't-miss prospect of 2016


Back in April, just as we started to process the shock of Jordan Spieth's Masters collapse, the golf world fell in love with a can't-miss kid.

Bryson DeChambeau had received plenty of attention the year prior, chasing his NCAA individual title by steamrolling through the field at the U.S. Amateur. DeChambeau had remained an amateur afterward, compiling a self-described "internship" of early-season sponsor invites after his college team was barred from postseason play.

He made the most of those opportunities, finished low amateur at Augusta National and promptly tied for fourth in his first pro start, a dazzling debut at the RBC Heritage where he led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green.

Beyond the unique fashion and single-length clubs and penchant for floating golf balls in epsom salt stood a talented player, one who appeared poised to make the rare jump from amateur to Tour card with only a handful of starts at his disposal.

It was a sound theory at the time, but it also may have distracted from the fact that the true can't-miss prospect of 2016 was still just finishing up his final exams.

Jon Rahm didn't turn pro until after the U.S. Open in June. While DeChambeau has largely stalled out since Harbour Town, a malaise that includes Thursday's 2-over 72 at the Travelers Championship, Rahm is quickly making up for lost time.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The former Arizona State standout bettered DeChambeau by seven shots in the opening round at TPC River Highlands, carding a 5-under 65 that included a 30 on the back nine and put him one shot off the early pace.

"I mean, 5 under, I would've taken it no question start of the day," Rahm said. "Overall, pretty balanced day. I will say 5 under is, even if it was a big difference between the nines, a pretty balanced score."

Rahm's talent and potential have been on display for years. When he turned pro, he was the top-ranked amateur in the world and had already cracked the top 10 at both the Waste Management Phoenix Open and OHL Classic at Mayakoba as an amateur in 2015.

But the speed with which the strapping Spaniard has adjusted to the play-for-pay scene is remarkable.

Like DeChambeau, Rahm surprised in his first professional start, a T-3 finish at the Quicken Loans National that reinstated his spot in The Open that he had earlier given up to turn pro. But unlike DeChambeau, Rahm kept the pedal to the metal from there, notably finishing T-2 two weeks ago at the RBC Canadian Open.

That finish paved the way for Rahm to potentially earn a full-fledged PGA Tour card for next season via non-member FedEx Cup points. His 382 points are equal to No. 130 Tim Wilkinson, and Rahm has three more starts left to improve his standing.

Should he crack the top 125 as a non-member, he'll pull off a late-season, college-to-card bypass of the Web.com Tour that hasn't been seen since Bud Cauley achieved the feat after leaving Alabama in 2011.

Rahm's result at Glen Abbey displayed a well-rounded skillset: first in the field in proximity to the hole, third in driving distance and fifth in putting. But his comments shortly after missing an 11-foot eagle putt on the final hole that ultimately would have forced a playoff belied a player who still seeks more.

"I played a very good two rounds, first one and (Sunday), and then the other two weren't so great, and I still had a chance to win," Rahm said. "So I'm hoping one day to be able to put four rounds together and get a win."

That opportunity could come this week in Connecticut, where he is again on the leaderboard and in position to make his ninth straight PGA Tour cut, or it may wait until next season. But it's likely to occur sooner rather than later.

Rahm's prospects are further bolstered by the faith of his former college coach, Tim Mickelson, who quit his position at Arizona State to become Rahm's full-time agent with Lagardere. It's a similar move to the one Steve Loy made back in 1992 when he quit as ASU coach to represent Tim's brother, Phil Mickelson.

"I always said that while I was in the States those four years he was pretty much my dad," Rahm said. "He was the guy I went to when I needed help and the guy I went to when I needed guidance. For years he's helped out a lot to become the player I am today."

While those parallels don't guarantee that Rahm will enjoy Mickelsonian success, they do indicate his relative promise.

DeChambeau could certainly go on to enjoy a lavish career as a pro, and he'll likely have a chance this fall at the Web.com Tour Finals to earn his card and potentially join Rahm next season on the PGA Tour.

But as this season winds down, it's becoming more and more clear that the prospect with which the golf world became infatuated in April isn't the one most equipped to make an immediate splash as a pro.