Numbers say Jon Rahm has exceeded the hype

NORTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 02: Jon Rahm of Spain plays his shot from the 14th tee during round two of the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston on September 2, 2017 in Norton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) Drew Howell/Getty Images

Numbers say Jon Rahm has exceeded the hype

By The Numbers

Numbers say Jon Rahm has exceeded the hype

If you are looking for guarantees, the sports world is the wrong place to search. We’ve seen sure-things such as basketball’s Greg Oden and football’s Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell become busts, while other can’t-miss athletes such as Tiger Woods and LeBron James have become icons.

As much as we want to be sure about players, we never definitively know who will shine and who will become the answer to a trivia question. But Jon Rahm, who just completed his first full season as a pro, has lived up to a lot of his hype.

Coming out of Arizona State, he was pegged to be a star, so the only surprising thing about the Spaniard is that he has rocketed up the Official World Golf Ranking this fast. A year ago he was No. 125; after winning his third event of the season two weeks ago, the DP World Tour Championship, nine days after turning 23, Rahm is ranked No. 4. He also was named the European Tour’s Rookie of the Year despite spending most of his year
on the PGA Tour.

Rahm played just enough of the PGA Tour’s 2015-16 season not to be eligible for this season’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award, but that does not mean we can’t compare his first full season on the Tour to the first full season of modern stars to see how he stacks up.

The chart on these pages shows Rahm’s 2017 was better, statistically, than his closest competition’s first seasons. (For this article, a player’s first PGA Tour season is considered to be the first year he played at least 40 measured rounds. Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have an asterisk next to their names because they played full seasons in Europe before joining the PGA Tour.)

Rahm finished the season with a strokes gained: off-the-tee average of 0.935, which means he was nearly a full shot better than the average PGA Tour player based solely on his driving. Over the course of a 72-hole event, that’s a 3.74-shot edge and more than twice the advantage Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Koepka and Justin Thomas had during their first PGA Tour seasons. It is significantly better than McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

From the fairway, Rahm’s strokes gained: approach-the-green average of 0.535 is second only to Koepka’s 0.598. Rahm also ranked third among the players in this group in greens-in-regulation percentage at 68.61, behind Fowler (69.9) and Thomas (68.92), but Rahm’s season-ending ranking in that category is slightly higher.

Rahm’s short game needs the most attention for improvement. With a strokes gained: around-the-green average of 0.07, it is not hurting him, but it is not a strength either. Thomas and Spieth were both better than Rahm as rookies, but it is worth noting that Johnson, Fowler, Day, Koepka and McIlroy all had a negative strokes gained: around-the-green average their first years on Tour. The only one of those players to not improve during his second year on Tour was McIlroy.

The biggest surprise to a lot of people will be that the big-hitting Rahm was a better putter during his first PGA Tour season than Spieth, Fowler (who finished second in strokes gained: putting this season) and the other players on this chart. He is not a great putter, but like other good ballstrikers, he does not have to be an elite putter to win because he creates so many birdie chances.  

(Note: This story appears in the Nov. 27, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home