No. 1 or not, Jon Rahm will head to the PGA Championship in prime position to capture another major
Jon Rahm couldn’t believe it when he first heard about the history he had achieved by winning the 2023 Masters.
In fact, when informed in the press room following his victory last month at Augusta National that he had become the first European player to win both a Masters and a U.S. Open, his initial response was, “Huh?”
As in, you’ve got to be kidding.
Once he was assured it was true and he let that sink in, he said, “I find it hard to believe. If there’s anything better than accomplishing something like this, it’s making history. So the fact that you tell me that, to be the first-ever European ever to do that, hard to explain (how I feel).”
Since the inaugural Masters was played in 1934, the European golfer with the most career major championship victories is England’s Nick Faldo with six (three Masters, three British Opens, never a U.S. Open or PGA Championship). Seve Ballesteros won five and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is next with four, but he has never won the Masters.
And then you have a list of European greats such as Rahm’s compatriots from Spain, Sergio Garcia, and Jose-Maria Olazabal, Germany’s Bernhard Langer, and England’s Tony Jacklin and Justin Rose who have a Masters or a U.S. Open, but not both.
Yes, Rahm is the first, though if you’ve seen him play since he debuted out on the PGA Tour in 2016, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s the one making said history.
“I don’t know what to tell you. It is a pretty good duo of majors,” Rahm said. “Out of all the accomplishments and the many great players that have come before me, to be the first to do something like that, it’s a very humbling feeling.”
Obviously, should Rahm go on to win the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, he’d be the first European to achieve that triumvirate of major victories, and then the conversation would shift in a big way to the same one that has dogged McIlroy and American Jordan Spieth for several years.
Only five players in history have won all four major championships, otherwise known as the career grand slam. They are Americans Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods, and South African Gary Player.
McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open, the 2012 PGA Championship and the 2014 British Open (he also won the 2014 PGA), so at the impossibly young age of 25 he stood only a Masters victory away from the career grand slam. It has proven quite elusive and when he missed the cut at Augusta in April, it was his ninth consecutive lost opportunity to join that exclusive club.
Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015, and the British in 2017 when he was just 24, so when he arrives at Oak Hill, he will be trying for the seventh time to complete his career slam by winning the one he lacks, the PGA Championship.
Rahm is only halfway to the career slam, but when the 28-year-old takes aim at the East Course, he will do so as the favorite in the field, perhaps even the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking (pending Scottie Scheffler’s outcome at the AT&T Byron Nelson), and as a 19-time winner as a professional — 11 on the PGA Tour which ties him with Garcia for most by a Spanish-born player, and 10 on the European Tour.
Four of his PGA victories have come in 2023 as he won the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (Hawaii) Golf Club and The American Express at PGA West in LaQuinta, California in January, and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera outside Los Angeles in February, prior to his Masters triumph.
There was almost a fifth, too. In late April, trying to defend his 2022 victory at the Mexico Open, Rahm shot 21-under-par including a 9-under third-round 61, but finished runner-up to Tony Finau. He’s been on a serious roll, and Finau knew that outlasting him was a big-time feather in his cap.
“Any time you can battle with a guy like Jon Rahm who’s in the form that he was and come out on top, it makes me feel good,” Finau said. “Rahm is a good friend of mine, we practice quite a bit together, so having Rahmbo as like a sparring partner for me has only made me better. And I hope he can say the same.”
Max Homa, who finished second to Rahm at Riviera and will come to Oak Hill ranked seventh in the world and seeking his first major championship, recently referenced the Avengers Marvel universe when he was asked who Rahm reminds him of.
“Yes, he’s probably Thanos,” Homa said. “He has a lot of the stones in his toolbox. He’s a tremendous golfer. He has zero weaknesses.”
Rahm isn’t out there destroying fictional world populations, but he has destroyed a golf course or two, or more, since joining the Tour following a stellar amateur and college career at Arizona State.
He won 11 tournaments as a Sun Devil, second in school history to the 16 won by Phil Mickelson, and is the only two-time winner of the Ben Hogan Award which since 1990 has been presented to the best college golfer in the country. No amateur in history has been ranked No. 1 in the world longer than the 60 weeks Rahm occupied that spot between 2015 and 2016.
After playing in the U.S. Open as an amateur in 2016 and finishing tied for 23rd, he turned pro and enjoyed his first big-time moment at Torrey Pines in January 2017 when he rolled in a 60-foot putt for eagle at the 72nd hole to win the Farmers Insurance Open, his first pro victory. He has been in ascension mode ever since.
Torrey Pines was also the site of his first major championship victory, the 2021 U.S. Open. He never led until he made birdie at the 71st hole to get even with Louie Oosthuizen, then went on to make an 18-footer for birdie at the last to win the tournament. It was the first time a player birdied the final two holes to win the Open since Tom Watson caught and passed Nicklaus at Pebble Beach in 1982.
Rahm has yet to play a competitive round at Oak Hill, and while a fine driver of the ball, he occasionally hits it offline and doing that too often on the East Course, where the rough is expected to be thick, will be problematic.
Still, his iron play and ability to get up and down should be more than enough to keep Rahm in contention Sunday afternoon, and perhaps even kickstart the conversation about whether he, Spieth or McIlroy will be the next to complete the career grand slam.