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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Jon Rahm's Irish Open win just another endorsement of an incredible talent

Spaniard displayed both the touch and tenacity of Seve Ballesteros, and his ball-striking often veered somewhere towards the Sergio Garcia end of the scale

John Rahm of Spain plays out the rough during Day Two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club on July 7, 2017 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
John Rahm of Spain plays out the rough during Day Two of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club on July 7, 2017 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

You may have already noticed, but this Jon Rahm kid can play a bit.

Second regular European Tour event? No biggie. A wet and windy final day at the Irish Open? Bring it on. Informed of a possible rules infringement midway through his back nine? Thanks for the info, but I’ll just eagle the next hole, dust off any concern.

Rahm said following a superb performance at Portstewart Golf Club on Sunday that he hoped the controversy would not leave a bad mark on what was a scintillating debut victory on Europe's main circuit. Never fear, the only thing he did was lay down a marker of what surely is to come.

At 22, the Spaniard has now won on the PGA Tour and the European Tour, all in the space of seven months. In between, there was a second and a tied-third at World Golf Championships events, those tournaments ranked one tier below the majors. This time last year, he was only just joining the professional ranks having been the world’s No 1 amateur. Now he is ranked the eighth best player in the world.

So Rahm’s win in Northern Ireland was just another endorsement of an incredible, emergent talent. He won by six shots, his 24-under par a new tournament record. He even holed out for eagle from 150 yards on the fourth. Some way to break your European Tour duck, then.

In the tour’s commentary booth, former players Tony Johnstone and Mark James swooned over Rahm’s expertise, with both agreeing he had no obvious flaws, no obvious facet that needs improving. “Other than his marking” quipped Johnstone.

It certainly seems so. Rahm has won at Torrey Pines and then at Portstewart, two vastly different top-notch courses that underline his all-round ability. He is exciting, enthusiastic, instantly likeable for his approach to the game and even endearingly relatable for the odd hotheaded moment, too.

Northern Irish folk are famously quick to work someone out, to see through an all-too-shiny veneer. But Rahm was cheered and cherished all the way around the seaside links. Even when that old temper got slightly out of hand, like on Friday when he jabbed his putter in anger into a spike-mark on a green, or on Saturday when he shot the evils at whichever brave soul in the crowd clicked their smartphone camera on his backswing. He is 6ft 2 in and weighs 100kgs, remember.

Yet, “Go on Jon!” “Good man Jonny!” still rang out from the galleries. As Rahm said post-win, “It was really incredible to see. I have to attribute part of my success to them.”

John Rahm of Spain.
John Rahm of Spain.

He is certainly easy to root for, whether you are from Ireland, America or Spain’s Basque Country, where he grew up. And anyway, listen to the Arizona State University alumnus and he doesn’t sound very Spanish - in fact, “Jon Rahm” doesn’t really either (it is actually Jon Rahm Rodriguez) - and he seems more built for bear wrestling than the gentleman’s game.

Yet at times he displayed both the touch and tenacity of Seve Ballesteros, and his ball-striking often veered somewhere towards the Sergio Garcia end of the scale. All told, two pretty decent compatriots to draw comparison with. When all is said and done, it suggests a career set for the very top. Ryder Cup 2018, anyone?

It felt somewhat portentous, too, that Rahm captured the trophy the year after tournament host Rory McIlroy. Not quite a passing of the torch, mind you, since McIlroy’s still only 28 and remains arguably the most naturally gifted golfer in the game. But the Northern Irishman certainly has company in the Big Chase throughout this summer of non-stop, elite-level golf. As if he needed reminding.

So on to the Open Championship next week. Another shot at sealing a first major before his 23rd birthday, not long after securing a first European Tour triumph. Even despite his relative inexperience, thanks to his Portstewart procession Rahm will now go into Royal Birkdale as one of the favourites. Not bad for an up-and-comer, eh? Yep, the kid can play.

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