Rahm poised for major breakthrough at 2020 PGA Championship
It was a short-lived reign atop the Official World Golf Rankings for Jon Rahm.
That fact doesn’t make Rahm any less dangerous at the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park this week.
Rahm was leapfrogged by Justin Thomas, who won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Aug. 2 to ascend to the top spot. Rahm, 25, showed great maturity and perspective when talking about the minor setback at his Tuesday news conference. He’s not about to let it ruin his confidence heading into the season’s first major.
“I think we are in an era right now where it’s going to be hard to have somebody distance themselves (at No. 1) when you have so many great players playing who go out at the same time,” he said. “At any given point for two or three months, one of us can get hot and take the No. 1 spot. … It could be a situation where we are going back and forth, and hopefully I’m the one that stays up there for a while, but it’s going to take a lot of good play.”
Since the season’s restart in mid-June, Rahm hasn’t been as consistent as he was pre-pandemic when he carded five top-10s in six starts. He missed the cut at the first event, the Charles Schwab Challenge, in Texas. He enjoyed one magical week at The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, where he captured his fourth PGA Tour title July 26. In the other four events, he’s finished between a tie for 27th at the Workday Charity Open and a tie for 52nd at the FedEx St. Jude. His scoring average this season, 69.522, is good for seventh on Tour. He averages 4.33 birdies per round, eighth overall on Tour.
“I can’t tell you if I’ve peaked or not. I haven’t played yet,” Rahm insisted. “That was certainly the intent, right, for I think everybody. I think a lot of us (tried) to play as much as possible early on to get the rust off and play good golf, and well, in my case, out of five events I’ve played or six, I’ve played one good one and the rest have been probably below what I expect to do, right, haven’t felt my best. … Physically I feel great and mentally I feel like I’m great, so I feel like I’m ready.”
He said he feels comfortable at TPC Harding Park. The foggy, cooler weather reminds him of his youth in Spain. Dialing in his distances shouldn’t be an issue.
“It's going to be pretty much like going back to Spain playing golf when I was growing up,” he said. “Weather shouldn't bug me, something I'm used to, and yeah, need to get used to how far the ball is going. For the most part, we'll be able to predict most of it. It's just when the wind picks up, knowing it's that humid air, a little bit heavier, it will affect it more than it has in some places. Yeah, it's almost closer to what we play on The European Tour, which I've done decently well on, so hopefully I can this week.”
Rahm still hasn’t figured out how to win a major, but all indications are he’s moving in the right direction. His first major, a tie for 23rd at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, gave the world a glimpse of his potential. In his last eight majors, he’s finished in the top 11 five times. He missed the cut at the other three, including last year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. His closest call is a tie for third at the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He admittedly hasn’t always handled the majors well, sometimes ranking among the favorites and other times relishing underdog status. He’s embracing the learning curve.
“You get a reality check that it, major championship golf, is not just (about) playing good,” he said. “It's more a mental test than anything else. I've been having some good showings and somewhat close calls, but I'm ready to have a better chance on a Sunday.”
Rahm starts with a comfortable pairing his first two rounds. Mentors Phil Mickelson, a fellow Arizona State University alum, and Sergio Garcia, a fellow Spaniard, tee off on No. 1 at 1:58 p.m. PT Thursday and No. 10 on 8:33 a.m. PT Friday. Mickelson’s brother and caddie, Tim, coached Rahm at ASU and was his agent when he first turned professional.
“I've spent a lot of time with both,” Rahm said of Garcia and Phil Mickelson. “They have both helped me out a lot, and it should be a really fun pairing. I'm excited. It's rare that you get a good one like this one, and they both mean a lot to me, so I'm happy to share the stage with them.”