Jon Rahm is the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters but the only one to couple a green jacket to a US Open championship. By increments Rahm is encroaching on the space occupied by Spanish golf’s foremost totem Seve Ballesteros. When he’s done he might even leave the bigger imprint.
To win on the 66th anniversary of Ballesteros’ birth was a cosmic tip of the hat linking the achievements of one to the other. Couplings of national figures is an natural inclination. We are predisposed to seek connections.
Ballesteros will always be special, the first virtuoso from Spain, a figure of historic import for the way he imposed himself on the historical currents of the day, reconfiguring European golf and resurrecting the Ryder Cup.
The context has shifted. Rahm is a product of the world Ballesteros helped create, a player born of the American collegiate system in Arizona ready to win the moment he stepped out on tour. Witness the testimony of Phil Mickelson, who rode his own wave to finish second at the Masters and begin his rehabilitation among the established order following his move to LIV.
“My brother, Tim, was his college coach for four years at Arizona State. First time I played with him we played Whisper Rock, and he shot 62. And I thought I played pretty good, and he gave me a pretty good beat-down.
“So I am not surprised at his success. I mean, it was obvious to me at a very young age that he was one of the best players in the world even while he was in college. To see him on this stage is not surprising for anybody.
“It’s hard not to pull for Jon, too. He’s such a good guy. He has such a great heart and treats people so well. I think the world of him as a person. And as a player, that’s obvious, how good he is.”
These two towering figures from either side of the golf divide are at opposite ends of their careers, Rahm just setting out on the road Mickelson navigated in such style. Rahm does not have the same aesthetic grace of peak Mickelson. Rocking aviator shades at 52 will not be for him.
But what he brings is equally special, a kind of refined brutishness, the clubs worked by a painter’s hands and powered by a blacksmith’s body. Rahm at full tilt is something to see and terrible to face as Brooks Koepka found on the final day which he began with a four-shot lead with 30 holes to play and ended four shots adrift in second alongside fellow LIV rebel Mickelson.
At 28 Rahm is a two-time major winner. There were questions afterwards pointing him towards a career grand slam. Wisely he stood back from the soaring commentary, choosing to process what he had achieved not what he might. He is already in uncharted territory.
“If there’s anything better than accomplishing something like this, it is making history. So the fact that you tell me that, to be the first European ever to do that, (Masters and US Open) is hard to explain. Out of all the accomplishments and the many great players that have come before me, to be the first to do something like that, it’s a very humbling feeling.
“Obviously we all dream of things like this as players, and you try to visualise what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like. And when I hit that third shot on the green (18) and I could tell it was close by the crowd’s reaction, just the wave of emotion of so many things just overtook me. Never thought I was going to cry by winning a golf tournament, but I got very close on that 18th hole.”
The welling tears were rooted in the Spanish tradition from which he emerged, the third child of Ballesteros in the golfing sense after Jose-Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia. They were also for an achievement all his own delivered via his unique agency. We are entering the era of big Jon Rahm; big in stature, big in talent, big in scale.
“A lot of it [the emotion] is because of what it means to me, and to Spanish golf. It’s Spain’s 10th major, fourth player to win the Masters, and my second major win, right, it’s pretty incredible. And to play the way I did on Sunday, only one bogey in difficult conditions and coming in with a margin of [four]. I am really proud of myself and what I did.”
Rahm’s final words were for Ballesteros, the first face on Spain’s golfing Mount Rushmore now joined by his own. “This one was for Seve. He was up there helping, and help he did.”