Jumpabola Pragmatic

Column: Rise of world No. 1 Jon Rahm forever intertwined with Torrey Pines

In golf, Jon Rahm is the ultimate blue-chip stock. Hefty expectations are backed up by a never-ending string of bankable returns.

He contends along the West Coast, along with the East. He contends in the Midwest and the South. He contends in the desert. He contends at the majors, owning Top 4s in all — including a win at the 2021 U.S. Open.

Seemingly, he contends in his sleep.

“He plays golf, I would say, kind of with a lot of authority,” fellow PGA Tour player Scottie Scheffler said. “He … really knows exactly what he’s doing. You very rarely see Jon hit a shot that he’s not committed to.”

As Rahm transitions from the AMEX Championship to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, that remains as true as the balls flying off his clubs.

The No. 1 ranked player in the world became the first to earn 15 or more Top 10s in a season since Dustin Johnson’s 15 in 2015-16. When 2021 closed, he stood first in scoring average (69.3) and money (more than $7.7 million).

Kicking off this season, Rahm jettisoned any potential rust at the driving range. Rahm punished the Plantation Course in Kapalua two weeks ago with a staggering 33-under at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, tying the number of birdies in a 72-hole stroke play Tour event (32).

And he finished … second.

“I shot 33-under, (so) it’s not like I have much to complain about, with an out-of-bounds ball,” Rahm said of the one-stroke finish to winner Cameron Smith. “So, if anything, I just need to get over that one swing and I’ll be good to go.”

In 2018 at the Farmers Insurance Open, Rahm threatened to rise to No. 1 at age 23 — an ascent only topped at the time by Tiger Woods (21) and Rory McIlroy, who reached the summit 52 days shy of turning 23.

Rahm, who turned 27 in November, has amassed earnings of more than $30.5 million. No one ahead of him on the list is younger.

“He’s obviously a really good ball striker, one of the best out here,” said world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay. “On weeks where he rolls the ball and makes a lot of putts, like Hawaii, he has a chance to win.”

In a game built around an array of sweet spots, none come sweeter for Rahm than his trips to San Diego. He became engaged to his wife, Kelley, along the area’s picturesque seaside cliffs. He conducted a second wedding ceremony at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, where he routinely polishes his game.

Rahm captured his first PGA Tour victory at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open and first major, last June, during the U.S. Open.

For someone so comfortable with his game, Torrey Pines has become an equally trusted sidekick. The long and treacherous South Course, an unforgiving track that melts rounds and prospects, soothes and welcomes.

“It’s like a home week,” said Rahm, who finished second at the Farmers in 2020. “All the moments and memories my family has there, it feels like the crowd supports me and wants me to win. As my wife and I always say, it’s our favorite city in the world and there’s a reason why.”

The snug fit of the course to his game completes the warm connection.

“That coastline reminds me of home (in Spain) quite a bit,” Rahm said. “Weather is similar to what I grew up in and again, it is a ball-striker’s golf course. … It’s long. You have to hit it in the fairway. You have small greens. You’re not necessarily having short irons in, so tee to green, it’s a premium there which luckily is one of my strengths.

“So those are the reasons why I’ve been able to play constantly so good and with so much confidence at Torrey Pines.”

The relaxing feel of the course played major dividends at the most recent Open.

Rahm is forever known for his slowly snaking, 60-foot putt to seal the 2017 Farmers victory at Torrey. Patience and polish in the Open, rather than fireworks, allowed him to break through.

“On Saturday, when I made double on 14, I missed the fairway on 15 and couldn’t go for the green,” Rahm said. “I ended up with a 50-yard pitch shot to the back end. Getting that up and down was massive. That stopped what could have been bad momentum in the tournament.

“To finish the last three holes under par got me in good position to attack on Sunday.”

An even less-flashy stretch remains huge in Rahm’s mind.

“I made three great par putts in a row at 10, 11 and 12 (Sunday),” he said. “Those are things that keep the round going.”

The performance strengthened Rahm’s affinity for Torrey Pines.

“Having played good in the conditions we get in January, February and then play good in the conditions that we got in June, you know, just proved to myself once again that I’m a versatile player that can do it in more than one condition now,” he said.

“When you’re playing a course like Torrey Pines, all I had to get used to was the firmness and the speed of the greens, because everything else I’m so familiar with. I played it so many times and I was so comfortable, so I didn’t have much to learn.”

A comfortable Rahm is a dangerous Rahm.

As always.