Ringler's walk with Jon Rahm at Western Intercollegiate
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - For the past two years, Arizona State sophomore Jon Rahm has been making birdies – lots of them. So today in the opening round of the Western Intercollegiate, I made the decision to follow Rahm until he made a red number.
You may remember last spring, when Rahm – as a freshman – opened with a 9-under 61 at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course to set an NCAA Championship 18-hole scoring record. This year Rahm has continued to post low numbers.
At the start of the Western, I wondered just how long would it take the Spaniard to find a birdie at Pasatiempo Golf Club. Not long, right? After all, Rahm leads college golf this season in sub-par strokes per round. Heading into the Western, he ranked 17th in total birdies made (112) and was No. 1 in eagles made (nine). He had played 27 rounds this year.
It’s important to note that birdies can be hard to come by on the Alister Mackenzie-designed Pasatiempo than on many other college venues. It’s not a lengthy course, measuring just 6,615 yards, but it’s ever, undulating greens make it demanding. Picture what you’ve seen this week at Augusta – it’s the same course designer.
Rahm, who was the 2013 Pac-12 Conference freshman of the year, started his round on No. 15 because of a shotgun start, so he had to open on Pasatiempo’s difficult closing holes and start on a par 3. Rahm averages 2.99 strokes on par 3s, which ranks him fifth among all college golfers. He parred.
Rahm also parred the next hole, a par 4 and the signature hole at Pasatiempo. He made another par at the par-4 17th hole and followed with a near-make on the 18th hole, where is birdie attempt lipped out.
Four holes down and no red on Rahm’s scorecard, but no reason to panic due to the difficulty of that stretch. With only three par 5s on the course, Rahm would not see that opportunity until his ninth hole.
It was not a matter of if he would get a birdie, it was just when. He had good chances at Nos. 1 and 2 before making a bogey on the third hole. Seven holes in, and I still hadn’t seen a red number.
Surely, this could not backfire and be some sort of curse or turn into a just-one-of-those-days kind of round for one of the best players in the college game.
We went on to the par-4 fifth hole. Rahm’s tee shot found the right rough, no problem since the hole location was very accessible and his lie and position were fine. His second shot came to rest comfortably inside 15 feet and then it happened – a birdie.
After two hours and 18 minutes and 1.63 miles it was time to leave Rahm. It took a little longer than expected, but mission accomplished.
Rahm completed his opening round with an even-par 70 that included three more birdies.