Long road paying dividends for Rahm, ASU

By Ryan LavnerMarch 10, 2015, 5:20 pm

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.”

Except this year, Rahm is challenged just to be the best player on his own team.

 

 

Rottluff, a junior from Germany, has emerged in a big way for the Sun Devils, winning twice and never finishing outside the top 20. His scoring average is 68.86 – only three one-hundredths of a stroke behind Rahm – but he’s flown largely under the radar because of his teammate’s, well, outsized personality.

“I’m not really bothered by it,” Rottluff said. “I feel like if I play well consistently, I’ll get the recognition I deserve.

”Rahm and Rottluff are Nos. 9 and 12, respectively, in Golfstat’s individual rankings. No other team has a pair of players in the top 20. It’s a similar dynamic to what we saw last year with Stanford, when star Patrick Rodgers won Player of the Year honors but was pushed all season by senior Cameron Wilson.

Though their scores may be similar, Rottluff has a vastly different approach to the game. Whereas Rahm is fiery and unpredictable, Rottluff is prepared and meticulous. Teammates call him “The Machine.”

“You’ll never find a guy who makes fewer mental mistakes,” Mickelson said.

While Rahm was garnering national headlines at TPC Scottsdale, Rottluff assumed the team’s No. 1 position for the Arizona Intercollegiate, held the same week. Knowing he needed to fill the sizable void, Rottluff won by four and also kick-started a run of three consecutive team titles.  

“You know that at least one of them is going to play really well every week,” Mickelson said. “That’s comforting.”

With the emergence of sophomore Nicolo Galleti, who recently snapped a streak of 11 consecutive under-par rounds, and Sanchez, a talented but raw player who qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open, ASU is riding its longest winning streak since 1999.

When Mickelson first took over the program in 2011, the roster was so bare that the Sun Devils failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship for only the second time since 1983. Now, thanks largely to Rahm and Rottluff, he has piloted the team to a No. 6 national ranking.


FROM PAUL CASEY TO MATT JONES to Alejandro Canizares, Arizona State has a long history of preparing elite international players for the pros. 

Though Mickelson would prefer to nab all of the best in-state talent, it’s not realistic in the current college golf landscape. That’s why each summer he travels to the European Boys Team Championship to check in on the top international talent. That influence is reflected on this year’s roster, with players from Sweden, Norway, Spain and Germany.

Even Mickelson’s famous brother got into the recruiting spirit. When Phil served as the team’s interim assistant coach during the winter break, he solidified a commitment from top Australian prospect Ryan Ruffels. Overseas, ASU now enjoys a brand-awareness advantage.

Rahm and Rottluff have the potential to be two of ASU’s all-time greats, so it’s revealing that they have already filed the necessary paperwork to return next year for their senior seasons.

Rottluff says it’s because he wants to honor the commitment he made to the school.

Rahm says his parents long ago instilled in him the importance of earning a degree, because there are no guarantees in pro golf. Besides, with such a dramatic life change ahead, he needs a solid 18 months to sign with an agent, line up sponsors, secure invites, find a place to live and an instructor to trust.

“There’s nothing really to lose,” he said of staying in school. “Knowing how much I’ve learned and grown over these past two years, I know next year I’m only going to be even more mature and gain more experience.”

 Then he smiled, realizing how far he has come over the past two-and-a-half years.

“I’m only going to get smarter, too.”

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1