JOHN MCHENRY: Rahm ready to join the Spanish pantheon

Lowry’s form is a bit of a mystery to me. Both brilliant and downright awful, writes John McHenry

t would be easy to underestimate just how good Jon Rahm’s performance was yesterday.

As the second-highest ranking player and one of two overnight leaders left in the field, there was, first and foremost, the weight of expectation. Everyone expected the new phenomenon of world golf to win and with it join the elite band of Spanish superstars — Severiano Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia — all of whom were also major champions.

If Rahm was nervous starting out yesterday, then he didn’t show it. Aggressive by nature, his game is dominated by both power and ambition and while he may have relied on an early par-saving putt on the second, you always felt that it was only a prelude to something far greater.

And so it proved with Rahm producing a fantastic combination of power and finesse worthy of the superstars he was trying to emulate.

You never feared for Rahm because mentally you felt he understood what it took to win the Irish Open — a mixture of patience and aggression. By handling the pressure positively, he also used it to win. Five birdies and two eagles, one a holed-out seven iron on the fourth, to win by six against one of the strongest fields assembled in Europe this year, was a statement. Not necessarily to the general public by way of proving his own credentials — but more to his own professional colleagues that he has every intention of being a dominant, if not the dominant, player in world golf in the not too distant future. Intimidating stuff!

Jon Rahm kisses girlfriend Kelley Cahill as he celebrates winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jon Rahm kisses girlfriend Kelley Cahill as he celebrates winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Having studied him this past week, Rahm is a complete golfer. There’s his ability to overpower the golf course — especially his ability to extricate himself from and control the ball out of long rough. There’s also his great iron game but it was his short game that caught my eye the most.

Rahm is a modern golfer, who lives in the world of bam, bam, smash. He understands that if you’re not a bomber, it’s hard to sustain your career. But while he possesses more power than Ballesteros and Olazabal, he shares their short game skills. Much like Garcia, he understands the value in shotmaking and he is able to shape the ball in the air and manipulate his swing to suit the conditions.

More importantly, he is a brilliant putter — much better than our own Rory McIlroy — and quite remarkably he’s still learning.

From an Irish perspective, the early loss of host McIlroy and Graeme McDowell did little to dampen the enthusiasm for what was a very well-supported event. For the most part, our leading lights were stuck in second gear, while others like Gavin Moynihan grasped their opportunity to compete against Europe’s best.

Shane Lowry’s form is still a bit of a mystery to me. Both brilliant and downright awful, Shane frustrates because you know there is so much more in him — but such is his consistent inconsistency, I wonder if he is ever going to bridge the divide to achieving his full potential.

Shane Lowry drives on the fourth during the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart yesterday. Our columnist John McHenry wonders if he’s ever going to bridge the divide to achieving his full potential. Picture: John Dickson
Shane Lowry drives on the fourth during the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart yesterday. Our columnist John McHenry wonders if he’s ever going to bridge the divide to achieving his full potential. Picture: John Dickson

Like it or not, Shane hasn’t been the same golfer since he led going into the final round of the US Open in 2016, where he closed with a 76. In fact, it looks like he has been sleepwalking since that near miss and the subsequent loss of form, which also contributed to his non-selection for the Ryder Cup later in the year.

Since the US Open, his performances have largely lacked the type of energy we normally associate with Lowry — a man stuck in neutral while all around him are moving on. But yesterday, there was a purpose about Lowry’s play. Although still careless, his more determined attitude and commitment produced the type of finish that would have left him driving home with a smile on his face.

These are still baby steps for someone so talented but with a week off to sharpen his play, he can now go to Royal Birkdale confident. He’ll be a factor if, and only if, he gets his attitude and a far higher percentage of his decision-making right.

The same could be said for the man who last won an Open title at Royal Birkdale, Pádraig Harrington. He now seems to be putting better that we have seen him in many years. It was a typical performance of a Harrington over the last few years — a mixture of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Yet his final total of -9 was probably as bad a result as it could have been.

Harrington’s voice now portrays a man who has been through the emotional mill with his game but his improved putting now gives reason for optimism for a man who knows Birkdale well. To achieve there, he will have to be far more accurate off the tee box and his mind will have to be sharper.

To be competitive, Harrington doesn’t have to copy the twenty-something bombers. He has to manage his rounds better, just like he did when he was winning major championships for fun.


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