SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Jon Rahm didn’t leave Augusta National with a green jacket last April. The experience he gained from playing in the penultimate pairing Sunday, however, might just come in handy this week at Shinnecock Hills.
Rahm enters the U.S. Open with a solo fourth Masters finish fresh in his mind. The 23-year-old Arizona State graduate didn’t play particularly well in any of the majors his rookie season, so he didn’t know how he would react if he had a chance down the stretch in a final round.
Now he knows, and another iconic course with rich major history is calling his name this week in Southampton, N.Y.
“I didn’t panic, which is the one thing I really wanted to learn about myself,” Rahm said of a 3-under 69 in the final round. “It’s one thing to win a PGA Tour event, but a major is very different. I didn’t panic at all. I really felt comfortable. I loved the situation, I loved the hunt. Hopefully next time I get into the back nine at a major I’m the one in the lead and get to experience that.”
Rahm’s hunt begins at 1:14 p.m. Thursday along with fellow Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, and the course seems to fit his game on paper. Rahm has more than enough distance off the tee to handle Shinnecock’s 7,440-yard layout, and he’s 12th on Tour in greens in regulation this season.
One of his two career wins also came on a traditional U.S. Open course, at Torrey Pines in 2017, albeit not with a traditional U.S. Open setup. And Rahm also plays well in the wind, when his imagination and ballstriking ability are extremely useful.
The biggest question for Rahm this week is not necessarily about his game. It’s about his mental makeup.
The U.S. Open is a 72-hole exercise in patience and acceptance. Or, rather, a 36-hole lesson for those unable to keep it together between the ears. Rahm’s frustration has gotten the better of him at times, and this week more than any it’s essential that bad bounces and three-putts don’t bleed into the next shot.
One area Rahm will need to shore up in order to contend is his bunker play. The No. 5-ranked player in the world is one of the worst on Tour in that department, converting just 47.69 percent of his sand saves. Shinnecock is heavily bunkered around the greens, and it will be telling to see how he handles them early Thursday in Round 1.
Rahm missed the cut at 5 over in his first U.S. Open test last year at Erin Hills, and the frustration wasn’t difficult to see. Players generally don’t kick their golf clubs or throw rakes out of happiness.
Now a year older and a year wiser, we know Rahm’s game has grown, and we know Sunday at Augusta National helped him grow too. It’s time to find out how much he’s grown in temperament and attitude, with the U.S. Open at Shinnecock providing the perfect case study.