ERIN, Wis. – Every once in a while in this business, you get a glimpse of something special. I can still remember the sound of the 8-iron I saw Tiger Woods hit during the 2001 PGA Championship – from a vantage point of about 5 feet away.
This morning during a walk inside the ropes at Erin Hills in search of another story I’ve been working on, I happened to find myself witnessing a practice foursome that included Jon Rahm, the 22-year old Spaniard currently ranked No. 10 in the world.
I knew him to be a fine, up-and-coming start presence, with a win this year and seven top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour. He’s a big fellow, 6 feet 2 inches tall, 220 pounds and slightly awkward in his movements he prances about the course. But as soon as he gets his hands on a golf club, his demeanor gets light and graceful, as if he’s been transported into another world. It’s a swing saturated with confidence and power. And no, he doesn’t make it look easy. Just like he’s in total command.
At the short, slightly downhill par-4 15th, 358 yards to a distant mine field fronting the green, he laid up with a 4-iron off the tee and hit it 260 yards. From there, he had a little wedge, to a hole perched on the edge of a putting surface that, from the fairway, looked like it fed right into a bunker.
His playing partners all played sagely to the left, but Rahm knew there was just enough of a counterslope on that near side to support a shot landing six feet from the cup – but not ten feet away. He landed his spot perfectly, ending up five feet away when everyone else was 30-40 feet away. The fact that he made the putt seemed secondary. He gave himself a chance by knowing what was up there.
That was the precision. Soon came the power. At the 663-yard, par-5 18th, the wind was coming in from the right and helping just very lightly. He took aim at a distant bunker, 280 yards off the tee, and with his three-quarter back swing and power triangle on the downswing, just pulverized the ball. When we finally got to the ball, it lay 360 yards from the tee, leaving him 300 yards in – though Rahm’s caddie, Adam Hayes, calls out distances in meters, which in this case was 274.
A hole 663 yards, and he had a good chance of getting home in with only the slightest help from the wind. There was little hesitation in going after his second shot, a fairway wood from the deck. The ball had enough distance to roll onto the green, but for a swale that diverted it into a bunker. From there, 50 yards from the pin, to a narrow corner of the green with a little backstop, Rahm half punched a low wedge that landed near the hole, skipped once, rolled to the backstop, and came back within six feet of the cup. It was an impressive way to get the ball close.
I’ve gone on far too long. Rahm hits the ball in a way that’s different than the other players out here. Maybe years from now I’ll remember it, too.