AUSTIN — Meet the next big thing in golf.
Yes, you’ve heard about these legends in waiting before, the can’t-miss kids who are ready to take on the world. That so and so is the next Hogan, the next Jack, the next Tiger, the next superstar.
You buy into the hype. Only to tune in and be disappointed.
Well, Jon Rahm will not disappoint. Golf commentators will tell you that, Rahm’s colleagues will swear by it. The Spaniard — by way of Arizona State — they have said, is the real deal at age 22, a baby bull who can overpower a golf course with his length, his superb ball-striking and solid putting.
He’s been a big deal this week in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.
In round-robin play he didn’t need to play the 18th hole, rolling to three wins, including a 6-and-4 rout of fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia. Then Rahm dominated his two opponents Saturday in the Sweet 16 and the quarterfinals, first dispatching Charles Howell III, 6 and 4, then sending Soren Kjeldsen home in a 7-and-5 rout. He played 27 holes in the two matches, losing just one. He made one eagle and 11 birdies against no bogeys.
“The golf I’ve played the last three matches really has been very impressive even to myself, and it seemed to get better as I played, which is something that doesn’t happen often,” Rahm said. “ … If I had to play myself today, I would have been frustrated.”
In Sunday’s final four, Rahm will face Bill Haas, who beat Kevin Na, 1 up, in the morning and then slowed Phil Mickelson’s roll, topping Lefty 2 and 1.
“Hopefully (Rahm) eats some gas station sushi tonight and maybe he’s sick tomorrow,” Haas joked. “ … He’s obviously been very impressive. I don’t think a single player out here would argue that he’s one of the top five, top 10 players in the world.”
The other semifinal pits the Cinderella man, Hideto Tanihara, against world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Tanihara, who beat Jordan Spieth earlier this week, is the 54th seed. He advanced with wins against Paul Casey (2 and 1) and Ross Fisher (4 and 2). Johnson hasn’t played the 17th or 18th holes yet this week. After getting out of pool play where he lost just two holes in three matches, he toppled Zach Johnson, 5 and 4, and then lost the first three holes of the back nine against Alex Noren but won three of the last four in a 3-and-2 victory.
In his first WGC event earlier this month at the Mexico Championship, Rahm finished in a tie for third. Although he bogeyed two of his last three holes, he said he took a lot of confidence away from that tournament, proving to himself he can compete with the best in the world on a big stage.
He’s doing it again this week. Then again, he’s been doing it for some time.
Playing for the Sun Devils he became the only two-time winner of the Ben Hogan Award as the country’s best collegiate golfer. In his first event as a professional at the 2016 Quicken Loans National he finished in a tie for third. A month later he tied for second in the RBC Canadian Open. Earlier this year in his 12th start as a pro, he won the Farmers Insurance Open, capping his maiden PGA Tour title with a 60-footer for eagle on the 72nd hole. Rahm was the first player to win at Torrey Pines in his first start since Arnold Palmer accomplished the feat in 1957.
Rahm started the year ranked No. 137 in the world. He could crack the top 10 by the end of the week. Becoming No. 1 is not out of the question.
“Jon doesn’t have weaknesses. Every part of his game is a strength. I think he’s one of the best players in the world,” Mickelson said earlier this year.
He hasn’t changed his mind.
“I think he’s one of the 10 best players in the world,” Mickelson said. “If you look at the world ranking, he’s ranked 25th. He’s been out on Tour for seven months and his divisor is the same for a two-year divisor. If you divide it by the actual number of events he’s played, he’s in the top 10 in the world. He continues to validate that with some incredible play.
“Right now he’s a real threat,” to win a major this year.
Rahm doesn’t like to get ahead of himself. He’s motivated every day, he said, to get better on and off the golf course.
“Well, my expectations are usually really high,” he said. “But once I come to tournaments, I forget about it. I’m here to play golf and play day-by-day. As I said many times, I really play to win. I compete to win. And my mindset is winning. And really do my mental work before. And once I get to tournaments I just focus on what I have to do, stick to my routine, breakfast, warm up, hit balls, and think about it each shot at a time.”
Rahm is a humble man, too, so any type of spotlight or the glare of social media will not melt him. He sticks to a routine, won’t buy into the hype. He has goals and he’ll do everything he can to reach them.
“To win (at Torrey Pines) gave me a lot of confidence, but to be in a World Golf Championship, and have a chance to win, obviously gave me more confidence,” Rahm said of the Mexico Championship. “To believe that I truly belong out here, and that I can beat the best players in the world, that means a lot. And now I can win against them this week.”