Fully acclimated, Rahm rallies to advance at U.S. Am
Thursday, August 14, 2014
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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Never one to mince words, Tim Mickelson questioned whether Jon Rahm would be able to make it in the United States.
Rahm was 4,359 miles from his native Barrika, Spain; he had shown up two days late to his first classes at Arizona State in the fall of 2012 due to visa issues; and he spoke little English.
The then-17-year-old was a mess.
"I thought to myself, I don't think this kid is going to make it. We thought he'd get behind in school," said Mickelson, ASU's head coach, after recruiting the Spaniard despite never having seen him hit a golf shot.
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Amateur (Wednesday)
View images from the round of 64 at the the 2014 U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Rahm was plenty self-aware, agreeing with his coach, to whom he regards as his American father.
"It was way too tough. My English wasn't good, my SAT and GPA were barely good enough to get into ASU," Rahm said after dispatching of Texas sophomore Beau Hossler, 3 and 2, in the U.S. Amateur's Round of 64 Wednesday at the Atlanta Athletic Club's Highlands course.
"I don't know how many times I messed up in the first month. Probably the most anyone has ever screwed up in such a short time."
But somehow he acclimated. His English became more proficient, and he earned a 3.6 GPA in that first semester, settling into his communication major.
His impact on the golf course quickly followed, as he made noise with a record 9-under 61 in the NCAA Championship in 2013 at the Capital City Club. As a sophomore, he won the Thunderbird Invitational at 21 under.
"He's been a leader on the course since the second half of his freshman year," Mickelson said of the world's 14th-ranked amateur.
Rahm says his 2014 form isn't much different physically, but pointed to massive gains in maturity and course management as the reason why he could be dangerous in the Round of 32 at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Over the past few months, he began to work with a mental coach in Joseba del Carmen, a former pro basketball player in Spain. Rahm had spent so much time allowing golf to be his life, but del Carmen has taught him to view things differently.
"I thought golf was my life, but golf and my life are two different things. They are parallel," said Rahm, who will face USC's Rico Hoey on Thursday morning in a Pac-12 matchup.
"The happier you are in life, the better you'll be on the course. These have been the happiest three months I have ever spent."
Rahm wasn't so happy through four holes Wednesday, as Hossler drew first blood by going 3 up after a birdie on No. 4.
But a great up-and-down by Rahm on No. 5 stopped Hossler's run. When Hossler three-putted No. 6, Rahm started to gain the momentum in the match. He added a birdie on No. 8 to be 1 down at the turn.
Rahm used his incredible distance off the tee to his advantage on the par-5 10th, picking up an eagle to square the match. And while the thought of the eagle made Rahm smile, he pointed to a missed 7-footer by Hossler on No. 12 as the turning point, giving Rahm a lead that he would not relinquish.
The comeback spoke to what Mickelson believes is Rahm's biggest improvement since arriving in the U.S.
"His course management was pretty poor when he first got to us," Mickelson said. "So we worked on things from a mental standpoint, knowing what clubs he should be hitting. We wanted him to play to the strengths of his game."
His love of golf wasn't incredibly strong as a youngster. He learned the game while also playing soccer, canoeing and taking kung-fu lessons ("I liked that a lot," he said). But his mother continued to take him to the range for lessons, and by the time he was 13, he was good enough for tournament golf.
The first tournament was a disaster, he said, but he finished fourth in an event as a 14-year-old. Rahm started winning titles against players six or seven years older. That led him to leave his parents for the last two years of high school to attend a golf academy in Spain.
Upon graduation, Rahm planned to take a year off, focus on his game and learn English before joining Mickelson's squad. But the finances didn't make sense for either side, and that sent a wide-eyed 17-year-old into the great unknown.
Despite Rahm's age, Mickelson knew that his recruit had the drive needed to fulfill his dream of one day playing on the PGA Tour.
"All we could do is guide him," Mickelson said. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."
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In other matches
• Hossler was one of four current Texas players to fall Wednesday, with three incoming freshmen – Doug Ghim, Scottie Scheffler and Taylor Funk – all failing to move on.
• Ollie Schniederjans, the world's top-ranked amateur, cruised to a 6-and-5 victory over Matt Teesdale, setting up an intriguing match with top junior Sam Burns, who knocked off Matt NeSmith. Read more here.
• Sam Horsfield, who shared the lead in the first round of stroke play, relinquished a two-hole lead, falling to Isaiah Logue, 2 and 1.
• In one of the only two matches to go to extra holes, Cameron Young edged Tyler Torano in 19 holes – making a 35-footer to win. "A little surprised, obviously, from that far away; those don't go in all the time. But I hit it right where I wanted to, good speed. So I was about due to make one," Young said.
• Former Georgia Tech standout Seth Reeves lost to Gunn Yang, leaving only two Yellow Jackets, Schniederjans and Bo Andrews, in the field.
• Both co-medalists fell Wednesday, as mid-amateur Nathan Smith ousted No. 1 seed Lee McCoy in 19 holes, while Jesse Heinly ousted No. 2 seed Taylor Moore, 3 and 2. Heinly and Smith had made the Round of 64 by surviving a 17-for-4 playoff Wednesday morning. The last medalist to win the Havemeyer Trophy was Ryan Moore, in 2004.
• Garrett Rank birdied the par-5 18th hole to knock off Kennesaw State's Jimmy Beck, 1 up. Beck was the 18-hole stroke-play leader.