At the presentation for the ACCIONA Open de España presented by Madrid it was clear that Jon Rahm is very aware of the responsibility on his shoulders. He is here to represent an entire nation. People are in no doubt that the man from Barrika will cruise to victory this week, but golf is not always that straight forward, it is possibly the most difficult sport to win in. Jon knows that and he made it clear when the president of the Spanish Golf Federation said he was “expecting to see him lift the trophy on Sunday”. The Basque native shook his head in acknowledgement of the extreme difficulty of success at this level.
Despite the responsibility that is part and parcel of being the world number 1, Jon Rahm seems to be up to the task. “I’ve always believed in myself”. The Basque native was quick to point out that he is here to win and that he has always been convinced he would be successful from the start. One of the keys to his meteoric rise is the confidence he has had in himself since his first steps in the sport. That belief was made clear years ago when Rahm would tell his parents that he was going to be the best in the world, as he explained at the tournament presentation.
He is not the only one to have had such faith in his ability, Phil Mickelson was clearly in no doubt of his talent either. The American golf legend bet a large sum of money (the exact amount has never been made public) that Rahm would break into the top 10 in less than a year. It was 2016 and the Spaniard was yet to turn professional. He was turning heads at the University of Arizona with some astonishing performances on the university team, but turning professional is always a complicated task, sometimes even traumatic. Not for Jon though. He finished fifth in his first PGA Tour event in Phoenix when he was still an amateur. “That’s when I knew I could do big things because my game was up there with the best”. From there he grew into the Jon Rahm we know today, a global sporting superstar.
What Jon had not realised was how popular he has also become in Spain. The player from Barrika had not set foot on the Iberian Peninsular since December 2019 and when he arrived in Madrid yesterday afternoon, he realised that things have changed. The Basque native admitted that he left his hotel yesterday afternoon to try and combat his jetlag and someone recognised him on the street in less than 30 seconds. “My parents and friends have been telling me for a while ‘you’re a star here now, your popularity has grown so much in the last two years…’”, admitted Rahm. With that, and having witnessed the buzz surrounding his press conference, the Spaniard must now realise that everything his family told him is true.
In the last year and a half the Spaniard has played some quite astonishing golf. The culmination of his rise came through two magical putts on the 17th and 18th at Torrey Pines that earned him the US Open title. Add to that a fifth place at the US Masters and a third at The Open, his favourite tournament and the one he most looks forward to playing in. Such is his hunger that he already has his sights set on St. Andrews. The home of this wonderful sport, where history and tradition come together in one magical place, will host the 150th Open Championship next year. Save the date because the man from Barrika will be heading there with one thing in his mind. “There’s nothing greater than winning an Open at St. Andrews”. Say no more.
The Basque has delivered on his promise to defend his title in Madrid. He knows he is the hot favourite, and that all eyes will be on him. But Jon is like all sporting giants, the pressure only spurs him on. We have four days to watch the world’s best golfer in Spain, let’s make the most of it.