Time, they say waits for no one, but memories like those we most regularly witness at Augusta National for The Masters, can last a lifetime.
As we return this week to Augusta, the venue that saw Jack Nicklaus win his last major championship in 1986 and Tiger Woods his first in 1997, we are left to wonder if 2017 will be the year that Rory McIlroy secures his first “Grand Slam” of major championships or the year that yet another player, like the wonderfully talented Jon Rahm, announces himself to the world, on the biggest stage of all, just like his compatriot and idol Seve Ballesteros did way back in 1980.
This week, Tiger Woods once again misses an event through injury but where once his absence from the game was feared for the commercial ramifications it might have with sponsors, the competitive rivalry that now exists between the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and now Dustin Johnson, has meant that the professional game is doing everything it can to keep its global sponsors happy.
In the past 12 months, Dustin Johnson has been the dominant force in the game but while all of his rivals can similarly point to periods of domination in recent years, it is McIlroy’s quest to win his first US Masters title and with it, become the first European and only the sixth person in the history of the game, to win a “grand slam” of major championships — which is once again dominating the story lines.
Drawn to play with McIlroy in his opening rounds this week are recent world match play semi-finalist, Japan’s Hideto Taihara and finalist in the same event, Spain’s Jon Rahm — one of the emerging superstars in the game. Rahm’s early pedigree is every bit as impressive as both McIlroy and Tiger Woods of years gone past. All former number 1 ranked amateurs in the world, all also secured their playing privileges onto their respective tours through money won in limited events, thereby avoiding the dreaded Tour school.
In Rahm’s case, as a NCAA collegiate player in America, he won 11 collegiate events, (second only behind Phil Mickelson). He also holds two of the top 6 NCAA annual stroke averages of all time.
As a professional, Rahm secured his tour card in just two tournaments, the Quicken Loans National in Maryland, where he finished tied for third to earn just over $400,000 and the RBC Canadian Open where he earned an additional $440,000. Playing privileges secure, he then won his first PGA professional tournament, after just 13 starts, at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier in the year and has come from the 1,548th in the world rankings in 2014 to his present position of 12th. So, the next time you hear anyone talking about him in an animated fashion, believe the hype, because he has already validated a lot of the excitement that is already following him.
Technically, Rahm’s swing looks somewhat unorthodox in that much like Dustin Johnson, his wrists at the top of the swing are bowed but whereas Johnson’s swing is long and languid (reflecting his natural athleticism), Rahm’s swing is much shorter. You might think that this would cost him length, but that’s not the case because just as his powerful lower body begins to transition his weight around his trunk, he retains all of his power through the hinge he has created in his wrists and the width he has maintained in his arms. More width means more speed and in Rahm’s case it means immense length and accuracy.
s big as the charismatic Rahm is, 6’4” and 230lbs, he also possesses great hands, a wonderful short game and a fertile creative mind, one which his hero Severiano Ballesteros would have been proud of. Of equal importance is that fact that, if his career to date is anything to go by, Rahm also seems to relish pressure. It’s the ultimate combination and for someone who has already had a serious impact on the game, you feel that he, rather than anyone else, will be shaping his own destiny for years to come. That said, it’s hard to know what to expect from the rookie Rahm this week.
With little or no experience around Augusta, he need not be too intimidated by its reputation. His length, creative mind and strong short game should help him to overcome many of the more important shot making decisions that he will face throughout the tournament.
He will be buoyed too by the success of his compatriot’s Ballesteros and Olazabal before him but that’s where the comparisons end.
Much like his playing partner McIlroy, it is now down to Rahm himself to create his own piece of history this week.