Jon Rahm has Eminem in his head, and winning on his mind
SOUTHPORT, England — Jon Rahm was coming off a kick-in eagle on the 17th hole Tuesday when he hooked his final drive so far left on 18 that it sailed over the head of spectators lining the fairway at Royal Birkdale.
"Sorry, Phil," he said to Phil Mickelson, his partner in a match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
"Sorry?" Mickelson replied. "You just went birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle!"
Nothing to be sorry about, indeed. Rahm would go on to par the hole anyway, leading he and Mickelson to a win in their practice round match.
The way Rahm is playing there may be an even better prize at the end of the week in the 146th Open Championship. Little more than a year into his pro career, the newest phenom in golf is already one of the favorites to hoist the Claret Jug on Sunday in his second appearance at the Open.
Then again, his temper might flare so much he will throw his clubs and toss away any chance of making it to the weekend.
Either way, the young Spaniard who is built more like a linebacker than a golfer figures to be must-see TV in this Open.
"I know why there's some confidence in me from people who think I'm going to play good this week," Rahm said. "And I like to think if they have the faith in me, I should have faith in myself that I'm going to do it properly. So I try to feed positively off of that."
Rahm should be full of faith himself after dominating in the Irish Open earlier this month in his last time out. He shot 24 under par at Portstewart to win by six shots for his second pro win, a victory even more impressive because it came on a links course he was unfamiliar with.
If he needed any more confidence, he found it on the back nine of Tuesday's practice round when he strung together three birdies, then hit a hybrid to 4 feet on the 17th hole to help himself and Mickelson win a match he insisted was just for fun.
"No, we were not playing for any money," Rahm said. "We really just had a fun day going, and trying focus on the score, and the fact that I played that well does help a lot."
If Rahm had been playing for cash, he could have asked Mickelson's caddie to take care of his share. Tim Mickelson was Rahm's college coach at Arizona State University, and left the school to become his agent.
Now Tim Mickelson is also caddying for his brother after Phil Mickelson parted ways with longtime caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay.
"He started out as my college coach, and as our relationship developed and the more he helped me, the more comfortable I got with talking to him and telling him my problems," Rahm said. "And he kind of ended up being almost as a father figure to me in the States, which is very nice, because my parents were all the way in Spain. And I don't know what else to say. When it came to the choice to have someone guide me through the pro career, I don't know when exactly I asked him, but I thought it would be really nice to have the same person that was my college coach, and I saw the nice job he did with everybody, especially me."
Rahm also has a mental coach to help him with a fiery temper that was on display at the U.S. Open last month, where he slammed one club into the ground and threw another as he ended up missing the cut.
But the 22-year-old also uses his emotions to fire himself up enough to be one of the elite players in the game at times — and it seems to work, with two wins and more than $5 million in earnings since turning pro 13 months ago at Congressional, where he announced his arrival with a 64 in his first round.
Any other announcements Rahm needs to make are done in nearly perfect English, which he picked up by listening to rap music as he earned a degree at ASU.
He still listens to Eminen songs a few minutes before teeing off to get him in the proper mood.
"They're very motivational," he said. "Most of them are not giving up and fighting your way through. And in my case it gets me to the mental state that I need to be to play golf."
Assuming that state is good, this week might be one Rahm will sing about for some time.