11 Apr 2023 | Professional golf |
Clayton: The triumph of Rahmbo
by Mike Clayton
Only one player in the almost 100 years golfers have played at Kingston Heath has driven so far up the 17th fairway that he could see the green with his second shot. Formerly a par five, it was renamed a four in the late 1960s and everyone knew the long, blind, and often criticised (by those with no spirit of adventure) second shot to the green Dan Soutar boldly routed on the other side of the big dune. It was at the 2016 World Cup where Jon Rahm drove so far up the hill, he could pitch his ball onto the green in plain sight. The Rahm of late 2016 wasn’t the Jon Rahm of today but it was a staggering single shot suggesting what might be possible. They said he was fiery, and he was, but show me a Spanish golfer who wasn’t. It’s as predictable as calling Bernhard Langer stoic. The Spaniard who started on Thursday by four-putting Augusta’s first green and finished by not reaching the fairway off the 72nd tee was brilliant in-between, mixing modern power with Ballesteros-type work around the greens. Spain’s short game wizards of generations past learned in the caddy yards of rich men’s clubs in Madrid, Barcelona, Pedrena and San Sebastian. Rahm likely learned tricks from Jose-Maria Olazabal who learned them from Ballesteros who taught himself on the Pedrena beach with a three iron. Impressive too was he played in the bad weather half of the draw, the one having to play through the wind and downpour of Saturday morning to finish off their second rounds. Never have we seen the uphill 18th hole all but out of reach for the best players in the world and at that point Brooks Koepka, leading and safely in the clubhouse must have fancied his chances. Instead, the American hit only seven greens in the third round and went 22 holes between his third-round birdie at the par-five eighth and his four on the 13th on Sunday afternoon when it was all but too late to matter. It would be easy to dismiss Koepka’s 73-75 weekend as LIV-induced rust but that would be belied by the remarkable second place finish of 52-year-old Phil Mickelson who hasn’t fired a shot, relatively, in more than a year. With Mickelson, Koepka and Patrick Reed all in the top four it surely was a productive week for Greg Norman’s recruits. The professional game itself remains completely divided with the four major championships staying well above the fray and unless there is a compromise Koepka’s play this year exempts him into the tournament next year but not beyond. He’ll have to rely on playing well in the majors to guarantee his place and no one wins when he’s not playing – least of all him but he knew the consequences when he signed on for an obviously irresistible sum of Saudi money. Cameron Smith (292), Adam Scott and Jason Day (both 293) were far from their Augusta-best and any reasoned assessment of Smith’s form should be delayed until after The Open at Royal Liverpool. LIV signing the Open Champion made Smith one of the three or four most significant purchasers of the Saudi-league and the question is whether the Queenslander can maintain last year’s form whilst playing such a limited, competitive schedule. Rahm, on the other hand, has embraced the ferocious week-to-week competition of the American Tour and so awesome has his play been this year that we wonder if he can turn his triumph at Augusta into a truly historic season and win either of the two Opens or the PGA Championship.
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