Jon Rahm was 13 and walked back from the practice area at the Centro Nacional de Golf in Madrid when his coach asked him about his ambitions in the match.
“Well, it’s quite simple,” it replied. “I want to be the best player in the world.”
On a memorable Sunday in Ohio, just four years after turning pro, Rahm’s ambition blossomed with a lovely touch of serendipity at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
Jon Rahm went from raging tyro to adult matador when the Spaniard won a big victory on Sunday
World No 1 showed its value with a sober display during the Memorial Tournament
On the side of the 18th green, where fellow Spaniard Jose-Maria Olazabal once danced an improvised Ryder Cup victory cona in 1987, Rahm received a congratulatory punch after his eventful win over tournament host Jack Nicklaus.
Then he imagined another, even higher goal. “I want to be like you,” he said to the Golden Bear and immediately burst into tears.
The emotion was understandable. On Saturday, grandmother Rahm was nearly grown up, buried in Madrid, another silent victim of the pandemic, and the second closest relative he had lost.
“Neither died from Covid-19, but both were in nursing homes and I think they died because of the mental effects of the quarantine,” said the 25-year-old.
“My grandmother taught me so much growing up and I have so many memories of her.”
The 25-year-old paid tribute to his grandmother after she died on Saturday this weekend
Rahm was certainly tested on the final steps of his ascent to the top and seemed to run out of oxygen at one point, as a seemingly impressive eight-stroke nine-hole lead to play decreased to just three standing on the 15th tee.
It was the same in Dubai at the end of last year, when he was nearly chased by Tommy Fleetwood before becoming the first Spaniard since Seve Ballesteros to win the European Order of Merit.
Here he tried again to follow in the footsteps of Seve, so far the only Spaniard to become world number 1.
Again, just like in Dubai, Rahm came through his mental test by showing a gossamer touch around the greens when it really mattered, in this case a fantastic chip-in under enormous pressure on the 16th which is the hallmark of the biggest wizard of all time.
“I wish the shot didn’t have an asterisk now, because it was the best chip I’ve ever played,” said Rahm.
He was referring to the stupid penalty of two shots that was later given to him because the ball, buried in a cushion of heavy, rough dimples, had moved when he placed his club behind it.
By becoming the number 1 in the world, he has improved countryman Sergio Garcia in that regard
Thank God it just meant that the final profit margin on American Ryan Palmer was reduced from five to three. How stupid would the game have looked if it had cost him everything?
Instead, the story continued to feel good. Rahm called it “one of the happiest days of my life” and no wonder. If you think that Spaniards of the caliber Olazabal and Sergio Garcia never made it to the top of the world, this underscores his achievement.
This victory was his first since becoming a married man and continues his pleasurable progression from the tantrum-powered tyro to the mature matador.
“I hadn’t had a chance to reach ninth place and win this event a few years ago,” Rahm admitted.
“I would have done something stupid and lost my cool. I’m not proud of some of the tantrums I’ve caused and how foolish I’ve looked, but I’m changing, and I think you can tell. I am happier and growing up. It’s that simple.’
As for the man he replaced, Rory McIlroy’s last reign ended with a shy 77, but there are reasons to believe it could be a blessing. Imperious for the lockdown, he has paid the price for playing with a distracting atmosphere since the restart.
“Rory is perhaps the man who suffers the most because he has to play without spectators,” said Sir Nick Faldo on American television.
At least McIlroy now has something to focus the mind on, with the USPGA Championship only two weeks away.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
“I think I was a little tired of playing target golf for the first few weeks after the restart. This test was much more like me, where you have to think a bit more and take different shots. ‘
Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick is a silent imagination of many to win a major this year and on Sunday showed why with a masterful 68, the lowest score of the day with two shots, to complete his fine recovery from an opening 75 and in top three.
Kudos to Londoner Matt Wallace, another who performed well in the difficult conditions at the Memorial Tournament as he finished fourth.
Matt Fitzpatrick wants to win a major this year and has been in good shape lately