Sunday was the start of Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rabbit. In the golfing calendar, it marked a continuation of the year of Jon Rahm.
The Spaniard edged American rookie Davis Thompson to clinch a one-shot win at The American Express in La Quinta, California, sealing his second successive victory on the PGA Tour after a dramatic comeback win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month.
With two wins on the DP World Tour at the end of 2022, the world No. 3 has now won four of his last six events. Even in the two he didn’t win, he tied for eighth and fourth.
Only once in his last 10 starts has he finished outside the top 10, a tied-16th place finish at the PGA Tour Championship. It’s the form of a lifetime, and Rahm is relishing it.
“I felt in command of my game … about as comfortable as can be,” he told reporters Sunday.
“Every time I felt like this in the past, I’ve ended up going on to win, just because it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of parts of my game, knowing that basically I’m going to hit the shot that I’m envisioning.
“Like I said all year last year … you’re seeing now the fruits of all the hard work that I’ve put in. I felt like I was swinging really well last year, the results were just not happening. And they’re coming in a bunch right now.”
To the wire
Victory in California marked the ninth PGA Tour title of Rahm’s career, though the former world No. 1 was made to work for it by a 23-year-old rookie Thompson playing in just his 20th PGA Tour event.
Having begun the deciding round tied for the lead, the duo still could not be separated with just three holes left to play. After Rahm nudged ahead with a birdie at the par-five 16th, Thompson seemed destined to level with a birdie of his own at the subsequent hole, only to see his winding 50-foot putt agonizingly bounce off the flag.
Dropping his putter to the ground, a devastated Thompson put his head in his hands. Though he would tap home for par and repeat the feat at the final hole, Rahm held his nerve with back-to-back pars of his own to card four-under on the day, 27-under 261 for the tournament, and seal yet another title.
“I had a great week. Competing against the best in the world is my dream and I did that today and proved that I can hang with them,” said Thompson.
“I’ll probably play the ‘what if’ game in my head for a long time, unfortunately … but I’m proud of myself for this week.”
Rahm was full of praise for the University of Georgia alumnus, who rose to a career best 59th in the world following the weekend.
“Davis played amazing golf today,” Rahm said.
“If his ball goes in on 17, you never know what can happen, but luckily, the scales tipped in my favor.”
The win sees Rahm rise to the No. 1 spot in the FedExCup for the first time in his career and consolidates his status as the man to beat heading into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on January 25, the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory in 2017.
A win in San Diego would seal a remarkable start to the year, though the Spaniard would still need another four in a row to match Tiger Woods’ record of seven straight PGA Tour victories between July 2006 and January 2007.
Rahm’s recent run puts him among the early favorites for major glory this season, as he looks to add to his 2021 US Open title. He is currently the most in-form player in golf, yet the 28-year-old has taken plenty of inspiration from athletes in other sports.
It’s a “very long list” of examples, ranging from swimming royalty Michael Phelps to recently retired NFL defensive end JJ Watt, but among Rahm’s longest-running role models is NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
“I see a lot of similarities between us in the way we approach our craft, because craft is the key word for Kobe,” Rahm said.
“Having that obsessiveness that we both have over the game. It’s somebody to learn from, for sure. Work ethic beats talent every day of the week, period. And I like to think that I have a really hard work ethic and I put a lot of time in.”