PGA Tour professional Jon Rahm addresses the media ahead of making his 4th career start at The Players Championship in which he recorded a 12th place finish in last year’s edition.
PGA Tour: Jon Rahm previews 2020 Players Championship prior to Thursday start
THE MODERATOR: We’d like to welcome Jon Rahm here to the interview room at THE PLAYERS Championship. Jon is making his fourth start at the event and coming off a T12 in 2019. If we can just get an opening comment on your return to TPC Sawgrass.
JON RAHM: I have to say, T12 doesn’t reflect how good I played that week for the most part. It’s great to be back. It’s great to be back. Last year was a really fun week. Unfortunately I didn’t have my best Sunday, but besides that it was an unbelievable week.
After two years of playing average I would say on the golf course, one MDF and one barely-made cut basically, it was good to come back and play solid. Like every year I started with a solid round and it was nice to follow with a couple good ones, to shoot 8-under par here with a chance to tying the course record on 18, it was great golf played. Probably one of the best iron days or iron weeks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday that I’ve had in a very long time and one of the best I’ll ever have. So hopefully I can do the same thing this year, play good and have a good showing on Sunday and give myself a chance coming down the stretch.
THE MODERATOR: You’ve had a very strong start to the season, four top 10s in your first five starts on the PGA, ranked in the top 5 in strokes gained off the tee and putting. What’s been the key to your consistent play so far this season?
JON RAHM: Yeah, I think I’ve been consistently good off the tee for four years. I think the putting stat is more unusual, I might say. I know last year I was really good inside five feet on TOUR, and this year I think I’m really good inside 10 feet. I’m playing really good. Sometimes just need to butter up your putter a little bit, just need to be nice to it and maybe hope for the best and put your time in, just butter it a little bit.
Q. Could you just talk about your growth, not so much in your golf game but just in terms of your temperament, handling tough situations? 2017 here was not good for you on that Saturday, but yet last year when you did not have a good round on Sunday, you did rein in your emotions. You didn’t let it combust you in any way. Is that a reflection how much you’ve grown from age 22 to age 25 in that respect?
JON RAHM: I mean, I’m going to be really critical of myself, and it is an improvement, let’s say, maybe in that sense to the public eye, but to myself I still didn’t perform the way I wanted to. There’s been times that I’ve gotten mad and I’ve performed better, so it was one of those days where I taught myself, at least I showed myself that I can keep it under control. It’s just, next time I need to do that and still perform the way I want to, right? I feel like I was not showing it as much but I was keeping it within me and I was carrying a lot of tension, and I just need to learn how to release a little bit more. And you only learn from experience and getting yourself in those situations. That’s why I said that that Sunday I didn’t play great but it was still a great opportunity for me.
And yeah, I’ve said many times, I think it was 2018 that I said maybe it wasn’t my best golf year, but when it comes to personal growth, it was huge for me. Stuff I don’t want to talk about in the public and let everybody know what I’m dealing with, but it was huge. And it keeps on going.
Me and Kelly are married now, we had our second wedding ceremony in the U.S. just over a week ago, and in that sense in my personal life things couldn’t be better. With this being a work in progress, what people don’t see, is the reason why I’m so happy now and one of the reasons why I’m so consistent and playing better, maybe one of the reasons why the bad weeks aren’t so bad is one of those many things. It’s very easy to translate what happens in real life onto the golf course, just because whatever happens outside is so much more important.
Slowly I’m just maturing. I’m 25 years old and I was 22 and just out of college. Things just happen.
Q. Do you still feel there are times when maybe inside you’re doing a little slow burn because you’re not playing the way you want to on a golf course but then there are times when maybe that helps you kind of give yourself a little —
JON RAHM: So many times. So many. I mean, what I feel is the willingness to compete and perform my best, right, so when I’m not doing that, if I try to put that aside, I’m just playing on the same, like mindset, I don’t know how to put it, like just keep on going, it’s not what it is, but the truth is, it does matter. Each shot matters, and when I play good, sometimes I’m just — sometimes you need to feel yourself and change what’s going on. I’ve done it many times where nobody has seen it, where maybe I get mad where I need to do anything outspoken or anything, but I get mad and that starts a stretch of good golf. It’s happened. It happened in Ireland last year. I played 36 holes where I wasn’t happy. I got to the 10th tee and I basically told Adam, that’s it, I kind of got a little mad of — not mad, but a little tense, just going like, I’m mad, and that followed up by a great week and ended up winning the tournament. I’m not the only one, a lot of people do it. I think Tiger did it, a lot of other people do it, some people smile through it, some people don’t, but we all do it.
Q. I know you’ll be focused on this tournament this week but you’ve got a chance this week to go to world No. 1. Is that one of those sort of career goals and one of those boxes you want to tick?
JON RAHM: I don’t know how many times I’m going to answer this question. Yes, it is. But again, it’s a consequence of good play. So I just need to focus on from the first shot on Thursday to the last one on Sunday. If I do my job properly and I play good and I win the tournament, that will be a reality. If I just focus on being No. 1 and play bad, that will never happen.
Yes, it is a goal, but I’m here to win tournaments. I’m going to perform, and that’s what I’m here to do.
Q. Number one, have you taken any personal precautionary measures and has anything changed different because of the scare over the coronavirus?
JON RAHM: Well, I mean, I’ve done some research on it, and there’s a lot of things you can look at. From what I hear, the flu is deadlier than this virus, but at the same time still need to do your part to not expand it as much as possible. If everybody washes their hands as much as possible, we don’t touch each other as much, keep your hands off your face, you might be able to prevent as much as possible. And I’m also saying it because I know it affects the elderly a little more, and I have an 85-year-old grandma with asthma, and I know it’s a respiratory virus. So I know she’s a target, and she is close to me and dear to me. My brother has asthma, Kelly has asthma, Kelly’s mom has asthma. I know it’s a respiratory problem, so there’s so many cases close to me that it could affect, so it is obviously my duty and everyone’s to do as much as we can to prevent that even as hard as it is, it is what it is.
So this week, I love to fist pump and high five the kids, but it might be the one week where we don’t do it. I love also to sign autographs, I might restrain from that a little bit, too. Not from being selfish reasons, I just feel like it might be the best thing for everybody.
Q. Talk about the grouping you’re in, the uniqueness of the top three players in the world and what it will be like playing with Rory and Brooks.
JON RAHM: Well, it’ll be really fast playing with those two in the group. I’m not going to act like I’m the fastest, but I know I’m not slow, so with them two and me, it’s going to be nice.
You know, it’s exciting. You have the defending champion in one group, we have the 54-hole leader from last year and one of the best major championship performances we’ve seen in a very long time, so I’m excited. Brooks has had some really good rounds here, shot 9-under on 2019 on Sunday. Obviously it’s just an exciting week. You live for those moments. We all practice together in those nice groups and it’s nice to be recognized and it’s really nice to just be a part of it. I kind of feel like, not the outsider, but obviously they both have four major titles, both been No. 1 in the world, FedEx Cup Championships, many things, they’re both Nike. I feel like I’m trying to — I might have something to prove besides just good golf.
Q. This is the first of a marquee tournament of the year where there are the four majors and the Olympics. How do you prepare for a run where you have — where this is an Olympic year — and how do you prepare your game to be clicking on all cylinders here and the rest of the marquee tournaments heading into the Olympics?
JON RAHM: Well, with the schedule changing so much the last four years I’ve been a pro, I can’t tell you anything specific because I’ve done different things. But I think a lot of it goes to tailoring maybe a workout schedule or your workouts in that sense. I do a lot of work with them and make sure I’m going to peak at the right time.
I am doing different things in the schedule this year just because of the — of how much golf we have coming up, how much high-quality golf we have coming up. Now that the Olympics are happening, right, I think it’s — I thought they said — have they not said if they’re doing it or not, the Olympics? I might be wrong. They haven’t said anything? Okay, never mind. I thought they were — okay, that would be a huge thing if they do or not because if we’re not playing, they might add another tournament throughout the year. If not, obviously playing the Olympics if I can, if I qualify I would love to.
Yeah, I can’t tell you anything special. I mean, usually the week before, make sure you’re eating properly, you’re hydrating, making sure your body is going to be in the best possible condition for that week, don’t burn yourself out. But I don’t think there’s any special secret or any formula to make it, right. You have different things. Tiger never played the week before, Brooks plays the week before. Jack never played the week before, Phil plays the week before. There’s many different examples to do, and it’s strictly personal.
Now, what I do like is that THE PLAYERS Championship being before the majors, I think it puts a little bit more emphasis on it, just because it gets the great recognition that it deserves. I mean, we’ve got to be honest, we’re playing a major championship quality event. It’s as simple as that. It’s the best field there is. It’s one of the best golf courses we play all year. It tests golfers like a major championship. And I think — I mean, we could treat it, we should treat it like a major championship pretty much, because it is what it is. It’s that high quality.
I’m happy it’s this time of year and THE PLAYERS gets the attention that it deserves.
Q. You played so well here last year. I mean, aside from two or three shots, it could have been you holding the trophy instead of Rory holding the trophy. Does that give you good feelings about coming back this year and good feelings about how well you have played this golf course already?
JON RAHM: Yeah, it’s kind of what I said earlier. My first two years, it’s not like I played bad, but I just didn’t have the showing I would have liked. Every year I started with a solid first round, and it is a golf course that I like, last year I proved that I can play properly here, at least for three rounds, hopefully four. It is something I like. It’s a ball-striking golf course. You need to hit it really well off the tee no matter what you hit and you need to be accurate with the irons. On paper, it should play to my strengths. That’s why I like it. Again, it gives you a lot of options off the tee, it’s not the longest golf course and you can rail it back as much as you want and be as aggressive as you want, and last year it was a great example. You see Rory hitting driver on 18 with a one-shot lead, one- or two-shot lead, whatever he had, and put it in the fairway and making himself a lot easier second shot. And in other cases with other people are hitting drivers or not. It’s a great golf course, it’s a great design, and like I said, I think it suits ball-striking. You need to be a ball striker. Obviously we have years like Webb Simpson’s where he was making every putt he looked at, but for the most part I think ball strikers have had good success here. I think that’s why Adam Scott plays good almost every year, why Tiger has played good, why Sergio is up there pretty much every other year. You need to be good tee to green. I’m playing good, so hopefully I can play as good as I did last year.
Q. You were mentioning Sergio. The 17th hole, from your point of view what’s so special about that hole, and do you remember watching Sergio having success and having trouble in that hole and how did you leave that hole in the last two years?
JON RAHM: Well, he made a hole-in-one in the group behind me, so that was a pretty special moment. He did win in a playoff on that hole, and unfortunately he did lose a tournament on that hole, as well, right, so it shows you can’t escape it. You can’t escape it. If you’re going to be brave you need to hit a great shot. There’s no way around it. It’s a great, great design of a golf hole when the best players in the world are struggling with a pitching wedge in their hands. It’s as simple as that.
You know, a lot of it goes to strategy and the setup and the wind. If you have no wind, obviously it gets a little more accessible.
The front pins are a little bit more doable just because of the slope of the green helping you stop the ball. When the pin is on the top tier, I think the public that watches on TV can’t appreciate how firm that is, so if you land it anywhere close to the pin, most of the balls are ending up in the water long, so you try to dial it back and you end up on the bottom tier. It’s not the easiest shot. I think it looks — the green doesn’t look big off the tee, and when you’re looking at how small the landing areas are, it’s tiny. That’s the greatness of it. And then you have a great atmosphere around, the public cheering on you. It’s amazing when you actually get to hit a good shot and make birdie. It’s really fun.
Obviously I think you can’t pretend to go your whole career without messing up on that hole. It’s going to happen. It happened to me. Probably will happen again, but I’m hoping I can get a couple birdies in between.
Q. You’ve gone into great detail about the passion that you play with and how you don’t want to eliminate it, but you do at times want to control it to get the best out of you. Can you just talk about that process and how Adam Hayes, your caddie, has also been part of that process on the course as rounds go on?
JON RAHM: Well, Adam has the hardest job in that sense because obviously it’s very easy to see when somebody might be losing it and to say something, but you’ve got to be effective how you’re saying it because otherwise it could either go worse, you never know and you’re just not hearing what he’s saying. He’s been really good about that and getting me refocused for the most part. He’s been a great asset to my game.
I mean, he has full permission to tell me whatever he wants at any time. It’s as simple as that. I told him, I want honesty between us, so I will tell him if something is on my mind and he will tell me if something is on his mind and he has in the past and he has on the golf course. It happened at Riviera last year where on the 4th hole I hit a chip, and I was just — I was talking to him and I was just complaining to him, like I’m hitting good shots and I’m not getting rewarded, I was just deflecting, like sometimes I do. And he looked straight at me, and he said, Buddy, let’s just be honest, that was a terrible chip. And I was like, oh, so you didn’t buy the lie, okay, never mind. You’re right, it was a terrible chip. He kind of got me refocused and keep on going. So he does have a hard job in that sense, but he’s said the right things almost all the time. And also, when it comes to the development of somebody, I mean, I’m not there yet but it’s a constant work in progress. I’m spoken before, even in my amateur days, that just that willingness to compete and to want to do the best I can, it’s helped me out. It hasn’t been detrimental to my game until I was a pro and there was cameras on me, so that’s why it never really changed that much because it made me play better.
Now, when there’s repercussions like there is now as a pro, it’s a work in progress. I’ve been working on it really, really hard since 2014, and it’s a process.
Again, it got better in college but then the magnitude of where we were playing, I basically went from playing college events to being top 10 in the world in seven months. It was such a big change, the attention on me, it was hard to handle it. So that’s why I had some bad moments and slowly I got to No. 2 in the world, dropped quite a bit, and then I’m back in a little bit better form just because it’s a work in progress, and you learn from experiences. I’m really good at learning basically when I mess up. That’s the best learning opportunities, and I think everybody should take advantage of those. There’s no good times and successes without the bad times. Again, sometimes you need to take one or two steps back to be able to lean forward a little bit more.
Q. You’ve heard a lot of players say that once they get that first major, that that somehow can take a little bit of a burden off of them. You’re playing with two players this week that, once they won that first major, just seems like it erupted into two and three more majors. Could you see that scenario happening for you once you get that first one?
JON RAHM: I mean, it would be really foolish to say no. I’ll say that right now. Yeah, I do see it. I do know I have the talent and the skills to do it. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s as simple as that. I mean, Brooks has shown, he says, you’ve got to show up that week and do it. You never know. Rory got on a run in 2014 where he won two in a row. There’s just moments or times where players get in runs and get close. I mean, Vijay, late ’90s, early 2000s, obviously he did a lot more than just win majors, but it’s examples of where it can just happen. Look at Phil when he won his first Masters in 2004 and between 2004 and 2008 basically he was contending in every single major he played at. And not that he didn’t content before but just that one win kind of got him going big time. You know, Rory — Brooks obviously being the most recent example, it’s happened to a lot of people. Jordan Spieth, as well. It went from losing the Masters to winning three majors in the next few years. It can happen, and if it’s going to happen, I’m looking forward to it. Obviously it would be amazing to be the fourth Spaniard to win a major. I can’t lie. I mean, it would be amazing. Hopefully I become — I get that dream into reality.
Q. Any preference for which one you would want to be the launching pad, which major you would win?
JON RAHM: Listen, I’m not going to be that picky.
Now, I can make an argument for each one. As a European I would love to win the Claret Jug. Obviously the Masters is very special for anyone, especially Spanish people. There’s something over there for Spanish players. But being a little bit greedy, it would be amazing or let’s just say, dreaming a little bit more, it would be amazing to be the first player from Spain to win a U.S. Open or a PGA. That’s something, if I get to do it, then nobody will be able to take away from me, it will be there forever. I’ve always said I would like to leave my name in the history of the game in whatever mode it is. To do that, Spanish history would be the only one, so far, because it could happen, you never know, Sergio is still playing great golf and many other players that could win. It would be amazing.
Again, I’m not going to be picky in that sense. I hope I win one, but that’s just — I could make an argument for either one of them.
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
March 11, 2020
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