ERIN, Wis. (AP) — Jon Rahm left his first U.S. Open with a gold medal for being the low amateur and no guarantees except for sponsor exemptions to play in six PGA Tour events in two months.
That was one year ago, and even for Rahm, it’s hard to believe how far the 22-year-old Spaniard has come.
A year after his final event as an amateur, Rahm is one of the favorites at Erin Hills.
He is No. 10 in the world – only Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia were ranked higher at a younger age. Along with winning at Torrey Pines with an eagle on his final hole, Rahm challenged Dustin Johnson in Mexico and scared him in Match Play when Johnson was on his three-tournament winning streak.
Oakmont now seems like far more than a year ago.
“It’s truly amazing to me to just look how things have changed,” Rahm said Monday. “The future was so unknown. There were so many options depending on how I did. To see how I’ve accomplished my goals on such a fast pace … of course, I wanted to be top 10 in the world someday. I didn’t believe I could win, give myself chances to win World Golf Championships, get into the top 10 in the same year.”
He doesn’t lack any of the skills required to be among the best in the world. He certainly doesn’t lack for confidence.
But there was that moment at the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont when Rahm felt he gave the toughest test in golf a little too much credit.
“I teed off a little too on the defensive side, tried to respect the golf course too much and not playing as aggressive as I did,” Rahm said.
He made a few bad swings after a second rain delay that cost him five shots, and he opened with a 76. Rahm has such passion for how he plays that his emotion can get the best of him. It also can spur him on, and he bounced back with a 69 to make the cut, and two solid rounds on the weekend (72-70) to tie for 23rd.
And that unknown future was cleared up quickly.
In his first tournament as a pro, he shot 64 at Congressional – which has hosted three U.S. Opens – and was leading the Quicken Loans National. Rahm wound up in a tie for third, and he was well on his way to securing a PGA Tour card for the following season.
But it was the way he finished at Congressional, and a month later in the Canadian Open, that showed why he is such a threat no matter where he plays.
He was trailing Billy Hurley, who still had more holes to play, and Rahm was in deep rough. This was no time to take a big risk and cost himself spots on the leaderboard when he needed a high finish toward getting a tour card.
“A lot of people might have laid up or tried to give themselves a better chance to make par, finish second or get almost all the money needed to take the card,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about the card at that point. All I had in mind was winning the tournament. Same in Canada, when I hit the shot in 18, it was a 5-iron. I took it right at it. I didn’t hesitate.
“When I’m playing, I don’t think of anything else than doing the best I can do to win a tournament.”
Erin Hills is a different test than Oakmont, a traditional course that has hosted the U.S. Open a record nine times. Erin Hills opened only 11 years ago, a massive course in Wisconsin farmland with generous fairways, elevation and shaved slopes around the green. There is plenty of hay, thick and knee-high, for the really wayward shots.
Rahm didn’t bother going in there Monday.
“There’s no need to injure my wrist before I tee off,” he said.
But he liked what he saw. It’s a big course, and he has power to spare. He sees holes where he can attack, and Rahm knows no other way.
“It’s not the usual U.S. Open golf course, the U.S. Open classic setup,” Rahm said. “It’s more similar to Chambers Bay. And actually, I absolutely love the golf course. It’s a very long golf course, big greens, a little different to what it played last year. It gives you a lot of opportunities to hit the pin. You can be really creative. And I believe it will be a really fun week.”
The last year has been nothing short of a joy ride.