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.