Few people go to college in the United States without being able to speak much English, but Jon Rahm did it.
Few people win a PGA Tour event in their first year on Tour, but Jon Rahm did it.
Only three people have won the Masters on their first attempt, but …
“If I didn’t think I could win it, I wouldn’t be here,” Rahm said on Monday at Augusta National Golf Club. “This week everybody feels special at Augusta National, (but) I do think it suits my game. It certainly suits my eye. I usually like putting on places like this, where you know that you have a lot of break, and it just makes it a lot more fun and gets the creative side out of me.
“I think it suits me, and I’m probably going to enjoy it a lot.”
The native of the small northern Spanish town of Barrika was offered a scholarship sight unseen by then-Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson in 2012. The transition was a tough one for Rahm, whose English prowess on a scale of 1-10 was “one,” according to Mickelson. But in four years at ASU, Rahm won two Ben Hogan Awards as the national collegiate player of the year, won 11 individual tournament titles and received his degree in communications.
Rahm, 22, then turned his attention to a career on the PGA Tour. Since making his professional debut at the Quicken Loans National last June, Rahm has exploded onto the golf scene. In addition to earning his first professional victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, Rahm enters the Masters with four top-10 finishes in his last four tournaments, including a loss to Dustin Johnson in the final of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago.
He could join Horton Smith (1934), Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) as the only rookie Masters winners.
A key to Rahm’s success has been Mickelson, who – along with his brother, Phil – has helped guide his development since he arrived in the United States. Tim Mickelson resigned as Arizona State coach in July to serve as Rahm’s agent.
If I didn’t think I could win it, I wouldn’t be here. - Jon Rahm
“Tim being my coach for four years, it was an easy access to Phil and his team,” Rahm said. “(Phil) told me even before I turned pro that he thought I was one of the top-10 players in the world. But I was like, OK, he’s just trying to be nice. It’s not possible. But you know, once I turned pro and I started doing what I’m doing, I started believing he was right, and I’m pretty close to getting to that point.”
Of course, Rahm’s golf development started well before his college years. And for that, credit has to go to Masters great and fellow countryman Seve Ballesteros. Rahm found inspiration watching videos of Ballesteros play, and he’ll feel Ballesteros’ presence this week, especially as the late Masters champion’s 60th birthday is marked this Sunday.
“Seve is my ultimate reference,” Rahm said. “The name Seve Ballesteros is very important for me.
“If I have a chance on Sunday, I’ll keep in mind that I know he’ll be out there, much like at Medinah (in 2012, motivating the European Ryder Cup team), hopefully helping me out to get the Green Jacket. I know he’ll be out there for the entire week, but hopefully on Sunday he can make a special present.”