PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Friday marked Jon Rahm’s first official round at storied Pebble Beach Golf Links. He’d never seen the place in person until a practice round on Wednesday, but as 22-year-olds fresh-out-of-college are known to do, he has played so many Pebble rounds on video that he feels as if he knows every hole, and every shot, intimately.
Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach were two venues high on his bucket list to see and play in person. He checked off the former two weeks ago, winning the Farmers Insurance Open. And Friday at Pebble in the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he was on the march again, a red-hot run along the coast of the front nine moving him high up the leaderboard.
Why, you’d have thought Rahm was back on his video game on a gray, soupy afternoon at Pebble, only this time, he was playing in a rain suit. From the par-5 second to the famous little par-3 seventh, he’d birdie them all, ripping iron after iron to 12 feet or better. He left a 25-footer just short in the jaws for birdie at the treacherous par-4 eighth, and missed a tricky putt from 20 feet on the worn-down green at No. 9. Add the strokes all up, and Rahm was out in 6-under 30.
“To do that anywhere is great,” said his partner, amateur David Abeles, president and CEO at TaylorMade Golf Company. “To do that on that stretch of holes out here at Pebble, well, it’s even better.”
Rahm, an accomplished amateur who starred at Arizona State by way of Spain, is a power player who can get on some scoring tears, but he could not recall ever making six consecutive birdies before. Certainly not in such a historic setting. He finished the run at the 110-yard seventh, the wind stiffening in his face. He said his goal was just to get his tee shot on the tiny green; he’d end up hitting a shot that settled 3 feet left of the hole. One more birdie.
Funny thing, but Friday marked the third time in as many weeks that Rahm has torn up nine holes at a Tour event to the tune of 30 – and only once has he left the golf course satisfied. The first 30 came on the back nine at Torrey Pines South, a U.S. Open venue, which lifted him out of a tight pack and delivered his first PGA Tour victory.
Last week in Phoenix, Rahm went out in 30 on the back nine at TPC Scottsdale on Saturday – he even got to 7 under with a birdie at his 10th hole – but he did little coming in, signing for 65. Friday’s 5-under 67 at Pebble also left him feeling less than full. He failed to maintain his aggressiveness on the back nine, and when his 10-footer for birdie lipped out at the par-5 18th, he’d shot 37. He was disappointed.
Rahm sees the bigger picture, though. He already is a Tour winner, and he’s on a terrific roll.
“It reminds me that I need to keep making birdies,” he said when asked what he’d take from his finish. “Nobody here is going to give me anything … I was almost at the lead at one point, and I’m six shots back.”
Rahm is 4 under through 36 holes as he heads to Monterey Peninsula on Saturday; leader Jordan Spieth, who moves over to Pebble, is at 10 under after shooting 65 at Spy.
“I’m really thankful to be where I am, obviously,” Rahm said. “To actually have the front nine that I had, on this course, which I would consider to be the hardest one (of the three), I just played it pretty much to perfection.”
Sparking Rahm’s recent run of success, he said, has been his stellar iron play. He pretty much always drives it well (and long), and he has a nice short game. His iron play, at times, can hold him back. Especially his long irons. But his iron game was strong at Torrey, and it was there again in all its brilliance on Friday at Pebble.
As good as Rahm plays, Abeles has become far more impressed by how Rahm handles himself, and who he is as a person. Abeles, as CEO of TaylorMade, signs some of Rahm’s checks (Rahm signed a deal with TaylorMade upon turning pro last summer), but said their relationship has blossomed nicely. Rahm has come to know Abeles’ entire family, and Abeles, in turn, has bonded with the Rahms quite well.
“He’s the kind of guy that you want to spend time with.” Abeles said. “He’s a world-class talent, an unbelievable player, and an even better person. He’s a special guy.”
There are some nice perks to being 22; Rahm hasn’t tapped the brakes since picking up the champion’s trophy at Farmers. He said it was difficult to focus last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, played not far from his home in Scottsdale, because, well, so many people were busy congratulating him.
Asked to name the most random person who reached out since his breakthrough victory, Rahm said it would have to be Josu Urrieta, who is president of Athletic Club Balboa in Spain, Rahm’s local soccer club. “I’ve never met the guy,” he said, smiling. So he was the most random.
The most surprising congratulatory message Rahm received? It was the deep voice of Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain. You can bet Bjorn has quite an active interest in following this young Spaniard.
Said Rahm, “Somehow, he got my number.”
Better get used to it, kid.