Jon Rahm, preparing for his first Open at Royal Liverpool, has positive memories of the course from a previous tournament. He reflects on Tiger Woods’ 2006 win, adapting his strategy to the course conditions. Rahm hopes to be the first Spaniard since Severiano Ballesteros to claim the Claret Jug. He looks forward to the passionate fan support and acknowledges Rory McIlroy’s strong form. Rahm seeks advice from past champions and fondly recalls winning the Masters. With the Ryder Cup ahead, he’s focused on winning. Rahm admires fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz’s tennis success, providing inspiration for his golf performance.
Jon Rahm speaks ahead of the 151. Open Championship
This is your first Open at Royal Liverpool. Have you had a chance to play here before as a junior or amateur or have you had the chance to practice much? What are your impressions of the course?
Jon Rahm: I played 18 today and I played a Brabazon trophy here. I can’t remember the year, it was a good 11, 12, 13 years ago. It’s funny because a lot of the names in that tournament on the leaderboard are names that you see nowadays. I liked it from the beginning, it was one of my first experiences of links golf. It’s a little bit different to what we play in The Open rotation. Those fairway bunkers, a lot more penal, a lot of those greenside bunkers, a lot more penal. You have to obviously hit it really well. Tee to green, it’s a bit of added pressure. It’s a lot of holes, we’re on hole 14 right now. This 14th hole is a very difficult second shot, hole 12 very difficult tee shot and second shot. At first
glance I am surprised of how low they’ve shot here in the past, but really happy because I like the golf course.
Famously, Tiger Woods’ only hit his driver once over four days when he won at Hoylake in 2006, even with quite benign winds. What will be your approach to playing this course?
Jon Rahm: It was very dry and firm and yellow that year, you could get away with not hitting drivers in a lot of holes. Today, I played early, it was wet. There were some holes where I hit drivers and I didn’t get into any bunkers. I was hitting it on the same spots he was hitting the irons. I understand what he was trying to do, which is basically keep it just short of the bunkers and take on with longer clubs that give himself a more percentage shot. When the Greens are firm, it makes sense, have a little bit more control of the fairway. I don’t know what I’ll be doing. The game has evolved since then. When Rory played and won in 2014, he hit a lot of drivers. It is getting to a point nowadays where if you can hit a driver, you’re going to have to. Not only because of you, but somebody is going to be able to do it. It’s a little bit different game than what was played in 2006.
Jon Rahm not afraid of conditions: “It’s England”
Conditions are key to how an Open venue plays – what do you make of the forecast weather and speed of the course going into the week?
Jon Rahm: It’s England. It’s right next to the channel too. I don’t really look at what the forecast says because it changes so fast. I’m hoping we still see certain weather conditions because it’s The Open. There’s always going to be a wind. Hopefully rain is fair but there’s always going to be a wave that’s benefited one more than the other. It doesn’t look like it’s going to play extremely fast or extremely firm just because the rain and a little bit of the moisture should stay around but you never know. I think it’s going to play somewhat similar to what it did in 2014.
What would it mean to you to claim the Claret Jug as the first Spaniard since Severiano Ballesteros
Jon Rahm: Any time you can do something for the first time since Seve did it, it’s obviously a very big deal. It’s crazy that Sergio Garcia and Ollie (José María Olazábal), many other great players that had a chance, didn’t get to do it for Spain, but it’s not easy. I would be a true honour to be able to join Seve’s (Severiano Ballesteros) name on that list of The Open champions. Even aside from that, just being able to call yourself an Open champion is so unique, so special. To me, it is the most prestigious tournament we have in golf and there’s nothing like it.
“We are expecting over 250,000 passionate fans”
We are expecting over 250,000 passionate fans to cheer you on here this week – what are your expectations about the special atmosphere when the Open comes to Liverpool?
Jon Rahm: It’s always amazing when we come to this side of the world. The respect and knowledge for the game is so much higher than anywhere else and the fans know it. The only tournament in the world where we get celebrated for hitting a shot, sometimes even a wedge hit to 30 feet, just because they understand the conditions and how difficult it can be. You just hit it on the green no matter where you are, most of the time you will get claps. Sometimes you make a five or a bogey and they understand that it was a good five. It’s different and it’s really, really fun to play here.
Although Rory won here in 2014 and arrives here this week with a win at the Scottish Open and some recent strong finishes at the US PGA and US Open, many have you down as the favourite to win. How do you manage the pressure going into a Major?
Jon Rahm: Whatever people say, it doesn’t a really make a difference. Most likely I am going to have higher expectations than most people have about me either way. Luckily, I’ve been playing good for the last few years, I’ve heard that a few times, so you get used to it. Whether people think, if you’re going to win or not, I still come out here to win. Obviously, Rory and Scotty might be more of a favourite because they’ve been playing better lately, but I’m glad people still think I have a chance.
Which other players in the field do you think have the game and the momentum to perform well this week?
“If I have to say one player, you have to say Rory”
Jon Rahm: It’s golf, all 150 of us have a chance. That’s a beautiful thing about this game. When you tee off on Thursday, we’re all on equal ground and that’s it, weather aside. There’s a difference in weather, but nobody would have expected, let’s say, Tom Watson to do as well as he did in 2009, Greg Norman to do as well as he did in 2008 in Birkdale. Those are the circumstances that you can’t foresee and can only happen in Open golf. If I have to say one player, you have to say Rory (Rory McIlroy) because of what he did last week and how he is playing this year.
Ahead of adapting your game to links golf, do you chat to any of your fellow players or friends on tour about the best strategies for posting a low score at The Open?
Jon Rahm: I like to get advice from past champions and players that have done well. We all hit the golf ball in a different way, we all play golf a different way, but there’s always little things that you can learn. It’s always nice to ask for a little bit of advice to see what they consider they did well that week or what they think that needs to be done.
Three months down the road of another stellar year for you. Can you share some more reflections on winning the Masters?
Jon Rahm: Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and realize that I won the Masters this year. It’s crazy. The one thing I keep thinking about is just being able to join my other three fellow major champions from. Becoming part of the fraternity of golfers is very special. The only major that is played on the same golf course every year. It is a bit of a different feeling to it, just because we all know the golf course and just to come out on top is very special for me. If we’re talking especially about the week, just the weather conditions I had to deal with and then play as good as I did is what makes it so special.
After the last Major of 2023, all eyes will turn to the Ryder Cup and you will be a leading figure in the European team. What are your thoughts and expectations looking ahead to Rome in September?
Jon Rahm: My thoughts: Winning. Expectations: Winning. That’s all I can say. It’s such a fun event. It’s so different to what we do throughout the year. To be able to represent our continent, our countries, and play golf for European golf and do an exhibition. At the end of the day, it is an exhibition. Nobody’s getting paid and we’re playing for the love of the game and the love of our nations. It’s a lot of fun to be able to be a part of that. We have teammates celebrating with each other and we’re looking forward to getting that cup back to European soil.
“Hat’s off, his future is very, very, very bright”
For many people, a good way to unwind and relax is to take themselves off on a drive. What car are you driving here this week? Are you able to carve out any time to hit the road for some headspace or are the demands of a Major pretty all encompassing?
Jon Rahm: I have a Mercedes-Benz GLS this week. It’s not relaxing when I’m driving on the other side of the road. It’s very stressful but after a few days, you get used to it. In my case, my favourite car to drive is still at home. I know it’s not the most popular choice, but it is still the G-Wagon. That’s what I’m going to keep driving until I can get my hands on the EQG. It’s still a G-Wagon but a little different one.
Carlos Alcaraz made history yesterday at Wimbledon in a thrilling win over Novak Djokovic. You must feel proud to see the success of your fellow Spanish sport star – hopefully providing some extra energy and inspiration going into this important week for you? Have you ever met Carlos and if so, can you describe your relationship?
Jon Rahm: I’ve not met him but I followed his career. The last few years have been incredible, to be the youngest number one tennis player in the world. This isn’t likely with the three great players we had ahead and with Rafa’s (Rafael Nadal) shadow on Spanish tennis as well. To go and win the US Open and now Wimbledon and still stay the number one with Novak playing at the level he’s been playing. His first final on Centre Court and Wimbledon and beat basically, and this is hard for me to say as a Rafa fan, the best player ever in tennis after losing the first set six to one is quite incredible. The determination and strength he showed in all those sets, even after losing the fourth and come back in the fifth one and get it done was quite impressive. Hat’s off, his future is very, very, very bright. As a tennis fan, you’re kind of wondering, Rafa is coming to an end, Federer is done, Djokovic obviously might have a few years left. Alcaraz might be the next big thing, for somebody like him to come up and just burst into the scene like that was very, very special. So I’m really happy for him and hopefully he has a very long and great career.
Interview distributed by Mercedes Benz