The great expectations of Jon Rahm

jon-rahm-players-championship (Peter Casey / USA TODAY Sports)

The great expectations of Jon Rahm

PGA Tour

The great expectations of Jon Rahm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The show of frustrations started with a slammed club in the fifth fairway, carried out with enough force to make a sturdy shovel the ideal divot repair tool.

It continued through the rest of Jon Rahm’s second nine Friday at TPC Sawgrass. Another wedge bashed into the sand at 7, a pantomimed tossed ball after a missed putt at 8, then an uppercut punch to his golf bag at the ninth tee.

Now here’s the kicker: The 22-year-old, playing in his first Players Championship, left the course even par for the day and 4 under entering the weekend, just one shot off the lead at the time.

“I’m not a perfectionist,” Rahm said, “but I expect a lot of myself.”

So it goes for Rahm, perhaps the Tour’s hottest player not named Dustin Johnson. One year ago he watched this tournament on TV while finishing up finals and prepping for NCAA Regionals at Arizona State. Now he could be 36 well-played holes away from being the youngest player ever to win golf’s unofficial “fifth major.”

Citing his lack of experience as an excuse? Not a chance.

“Maybe it got the best of me, but I did get frustrated, but that frustration got me to focus more on my putt (to save par) on 7,” Rahm said. “Maybe got the best of me on 8. I don’t cut any slack for me. That’s probably why I played the way I played this year.”

And the way he’s played this year has been, in a word, awesome. Rahm won the Farmer’s Insurance Open in January, has five Top 10s in his seven tournaments since and will eclipse $4 million in season earnings this weekend. As fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello said Friday, that qualifies Rahm as a bonafide “superstar.”

“He’s just amazing to the entire world of golf,” Cabrera-Bello said. “I played with him many practice rounds now, I obviously got to be more friends with him, and it’s just the amount of confidence that he has, but also proper-based confidence on him. He’s such a good ball-striker. Unique swing, but very, very powerful and talented golfer. So I think it’s just going to be a superstar for many years to come.”

That confidence is the key for Rahm. It fuels the occasional outburst, sure, but it also fuels his undeniable drive toward greatness.

Rahm said he’s playing “some of (his) best golf” this week, which means the frustration isn’t because he thinks he’s playing poorly, but because he knows he can play better. And that’s the scary part.

“I try to keep my confidence high,” Rahm said. “I try to have full confidence in my abilities and that’s probably partly why maybe when I haven’t been playing my best golf, I’ve still been able to score because I have full confidence in myself and try not to doubt it.”

Rahm closed his round Friday by nearly chipping in for eagle at No. 9, settling for a tap-in birdie. After stalking around the course with a scowl plastered on his face, Rahm finally cracked a smile – one he said he’ll wear the rest of the day.

At last, his own expectations were realigning with his play.

“If you don’t believe in yourself,” Rahm said, “nobody’s going to believe in you for you.”

At this point, who’s not a believer?

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