Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
January in La Quinta. April in Madrid. September in Paris. December in the Bahamas.
The life of a jet-setting playboy? The agenda for a hard-driving corporate CEO?
In reality, it’s Jon Rahm, one of golf’s fastest-rising stars, living his dream of being a global golfer.
Rahm’s three individual wins and his contributions to the victory by the European Ryder Cup team took the 24-year-old star to virtually every point on the compass in 2018, a winning journey that started in La Quinta at the Desert Classic.
“I've always wanted to be a global player,” said Rahm, who defends his Desert Classic title this week. “So I just feel like when I play the PGA Tour and then I go to Europe, it's kind of like a fresh start because it's a little different golf courses, different people, different type of golf in general. It's like hitting the reset button to the mind on the golf game.”
Not every golfer tries to juggle the demands of playing full-time schedules on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. Of those who try, few have been as successful at it as Rahm.
In consecutive years, Rahm has won three individual events around the world, at least one on each of the tours each year. Toss in fourth-place finishes at the Masters and the PGA Championship, and It’s understandable how at just 24 Rahm is already a fixture in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
If Rahm’s rise in the golf world has been rapid, it has not been surprising for those who have paid attention to the Spanish star over the last five or six years. The No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a record 60 weeks, Rahm was a star at Arizona State under coach Tim Mickelson, who is now the caddie for his brother, Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson. Rahm’s time at Arizona State not only gave him a love for the American Southwest, but also a professional foundation through the Mickelson brothers.
“When I went on tour, being a Sun Devil alone and the relationship I had with Tim, (and) Phil and I played quite a bit together,” Rahm said. “So he kind of -- he really turned into my mentor, whether he wanted to or not. I guess that's what I was trying to do. He turned into a mentor and a friend, and we played a lot of practice rounds together. I tried to learn as much as possible from him.
“Knowing Phil, how he is, 25 years of experience, how much he studies every golf course, how much he studies the game of golf, there's a lot of things to learn from somebody like him, right, so I tried to play with him and soak up as much information as I can,” Rahm added.
Rahm turned pro in 2016, won the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego in January of 2017, won twice that year on the European Tour including the DP World Tour Championship, then won again at the Desert Classic in January 2018 in a four-hole playoff over Andrew Landry.
Rahm later won his home Open, the Open de Espana, in April, then beat Tiger Woods in singles in the Ryder Cup in September and capped 2018 with a win in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, a tournament hosted by Woods. It is that singles win over Woods as part of Europe’s 17½-10½ win over the United States that stands out for Rahm.
“As a golfer, any time you get to play with your idol, or one of your idols, it's a great feeling, something that everybody looks forward to,” Rahm said. “But to get to do it on the Sunday of Ryder Cup, even though we had a big lead early on the Sunday, to actually win the first full point for Europe and see how everything turned around, I've got to say that's got to be -- I mean, that is the best golfing experience I've had in my life, and it's going to be hard to better it.”
Getting better, or at least continuing his trend upward in the golf world, begins for Rahm with the West Coast swing of the PGA Tour this year. That includes his title defense of the Desert Classic in the Coachella Valley in an area he loves and on courses he played when he was still at Arizona State.
Rahm was a part of the Sun Devil teams that played in the Prestige at PGA West college tournament, played one year at the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, now a Desert Classic course. Rahm also has a sponsorship relationship with Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, sporting the Bighorn logo on his bag around the world.
“Obviously, it's an event that I really want to win again. It was really important to me because it's not only a great event with a lot of history, with a legacy of a lot of great players, but it's one of those courses -- the Nicklaus course at PGA West is one of them that I played quite a few times as an amateur, an amateur event in Palm Springs every year,” Rahm said. “We stayed at La Quinta and we actually had a great time. It's world-class golf courses, a world-class venue that, like (2017 Desert Classic winner Hudson) Swafford said, the greens on those golf courses are probably the best all year, comparable to Augusta National.”
Rahm’s 2018 Desert Classic victory started with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club, and he was never far from the lead after that. He followed with a round of 67 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course then rounds of 70 and 67 at the Stadium Course, putting him in a playoff with Landry, who shot 68 on the final day. The playoff lasted four holes before Rahm claimed the title.
“There's nothing really bad to say about this event. Crowds are amazing, the atmosphere on 16, 17, 18 is great,” Rahm said. “I really hope I don't have to play 18 four more times this year. Hopefully, I can get it done before. It really is a great venue, and hopefully I can have as much fun as I did last year.”
“We had one of the more memorable conclusions in this event's history,” Pat McCabe, tournament director for the Desert Classic, said of Rahm’s playoff win. “Jon Rahm outlasted Andrew Landry, sinking a birdie putt on the fourth extra hole, and we're also thankful that he did, because we didn't want to come back the next day to keep going. I believe they didn't have a whole lot of light left.”
The Desert Classic will be part of a busy early season for Rahm on the PGA Tour, which started with the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago and will include the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It will then be a season of back and forth between the PGA Tour and key events Rahm wants to play in Europe. But he’ll have to work all of those around a wedding date. Rahm announced last August that he and girlfriend Kelley Cahill are engaged, with the wedding coming sometime this year.
For now, Rahm is concentrating on trying to keep up the global nature of his game and the victory pace of the last two years.
“Two years in a row on tour that I've won three times worldwide, so if I can accomplish that again, it will be obviously a huge year,” Rahm said. “Winning (on) both tours again would be something amazing. First thing in mind is to defend my title in Palm Springs. That's the next thing I've got to do.”
Five things to know about Jon Rahm:
1. Rahm is only the sixth Spanish player to win the Open de Espana on the European Tour and the first to win in since 2014. Seve Ballesteros is the only Spanish player to win the national Open twice.
2. Rahm's 11 individual victories while playing at Arizona State are second in school history behind only the 16 wins by Phil Mickelson.
3. In 2010, Rahm showed he was a potential star in the game by winning the Spanish Junior Boys Championship.
4. In 2016, Rahm tied for 23rd in the U.S. Open at Oakmont Golf Course in Pennsylvania, making him the low amateur for the event.
5. Rahm and his fiancée, Kelly Cahill, met while both were attending Arizona State. Cahill was an athlete as well, throwing the javelin for the Sun Devils.