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The evolution of Jon Rahm as a person has been as impressive as his growth as a golfer.
It, too, had everything to do with his U.S. Open victory Sunday at Torrey Pines.
Rahm, who’s still only 26, is a living, breathing example of a high-profile athlete who has the self-awareness to know he has things to work on — and we’re not talking about putting, driving accuracy and swing speed.
Let’s clarify this before we go any further: Rahm has not robbed any banks or stolen any old ladies’ purses, as far as we know.
It’s not like he’s been some sort of heathen. He just wanted to be better.
It’s of little coincidence that Rahm’s first career major championship victory came almost immediately after he had an epiphany last month at the PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, where Rahm was at times surly and petulant with reporters when asked about his golf.
Rahm sounded fed up with himself, agitated and unhappy at Kiawah Island — and it wasn’t as if he was shooting 80 every day.
This is not what a 26-year-old multimillionaire professional athlete with a fairly new marriage and newborn child should sound like.
Rahm sounded like an angry golfer at Kiawah Island, and it wasn’t the first time his hot Spanish temper has been an issue. His reputation as a hothead has preceded him, but it’s been passed off — almost enabled — as part of what makes him great as a golfer.
“That fire, passion and intensity enables him to thrive and win tournaments,’’ was the general refrain Rahm supporters would deliver.
But Rahm wasn’t buying into those excuses. He wanted to be better.
“I’ve done some stuff in the past on the golf course that I’m not proud of, and I wish I could eliminate it,’’ Rahm said. “I feel like that Sunday of the PGA changed things a little bit. Ever since the Sunday at the PGA I felt a bit of a shift on the golf course mentally. I still had that grit, but [it was] almost like each miss bothered me less. I believe it’s because I really set myself out to be an example for my son that he would be proud of.’’
Exhibit A was Rahm’s reaction to the terrible fortune he encountered two weeks ago at the Memorial when he was forced to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test after he’d built a six-shot lead entering the final round.
That was evidence of a man mature beyond his years — something Rahm has been since he got to Arizona State as a teenager who barely spoke English.
Listen to him now, just a few shorts years later, and what you hear is one of the most eloquent, well-spoken players on the PGA Tour, a person who has terrific perspective and owns his shortcomings.
Within hours of his WD at the Memorial, Rahm posted a poignant message on Twitter, blaming no one for what happened to him and wishing Collin Morikawa and Patrick Cantlay luck in the Sunday final round that should have belonged to him as he defended his title at Muirfield Village.
Oh yes, the withdrawal cost Rahm the $1.7 million first-place check.
In Rahm’s pre-tournament press conference at Torrey Pines, he adamantly defended the PGA Tour for the way it handled his situation at Memorial when there were many public cries for the Tour to allow Rahm to play by himself that Sunday.
Rahm said the PGA Tour “did what it had to do,’’ defending the protocols that the tour had in place.
“I believe from the biggest setbacks we can get some of the biggest breakthroughs, and that’s why I stay so positive,’’ Rahm said.
Earlier in the week, Rahm was asked by a reporter after a round about his temper and he seemed exasperated that this continued to be a topic of conversation, saying, “Am I ever going to escape that question?”
“Everyone forgets how young he is, but it feels like he has grown up a lot all of a sudden,” 22-year-old Matthew Wolff, who played with Rahm in the final round Sunday, said.
“He is a gentle giant; he’s got the kindest heart, and yet he has a great fire and passion to the game,’’ said Phil Mickelson, who’s served as a mentor to Rahm since his brother, Tim, recruited Rahm to play for him at ASU.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but there’s been a steady progress,’’ Rahm said of his temperament. “Right now I’m a role model to my son [Kepa]. I made that deal with myself after the third round of the PGA. I wasn’t happy with how I ended, and I could have handled it better, and I vowed to myself to be a better role model for my son. He won’t remember any of this because he’s only 10 weeks old, but I do.
“Hopefully in the future, he can grow up to be someone who’s proud of his dad. I hope I can provide that example.’’
He’s already doing that.
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