Four questions with Spaniard Jon Rahm, a Masters rookie who earned his invitation by winning the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year. He has followed that with three top-five finishes. At Arizona State he won 11 tournaments and twice won the Ben Hogan Award for top college golfer. Excerpts of his Masters interview:
Q: What are you views of Augusta National?
A: I actually came here for the first time right after México. And really, for a Spaniard, it’s hard to explain all the feelings that come to mind. The year I was born, (Jose Maria) Olazábal won his first Masters. Seve (Ballesteros) had already won two. It really is a place that seems to suit the Spanish game character, the Spanish way of playing. Obviously, I’m extremely honored to be here. There’s not many places in the world where golf is respected the way it is here. And it’s really, for people like me who just turned pro, and I’ve seen a lot of great places; it doesn’t get much better than this.
Q: Can you talk about the value of your association with Phil Mickelson and his brother Tim?
A: It all started in college. Tim being my coach for four years, it was an easy access to Phil and his team. I really pretty much played once each year, sophomore, junior and senior year. Obviously he’s a busy man; it’s hard to find him. And that’s kind of how it all started, right. Apparently, I get to learn from people that tell me he’s always had incredible faith in my game. We played against each other a couple times and he’s had nothing but great things to say about me. So that’s the first point, Phil being a great motivator.
He told me even before I turned pro that he thought I was one of the top 10 best players in the world. At the time, he gave me a lot of confidence. But I was like, OK, he’s just trying to be nice, right. It’s not possible. I mean, I’m still in college. You can’t be as good as other players.
But you know, once I turned pro and I started doing what I’m doing, I started believing he was right, and I’m pretty close to getting to that point.
Q: Fuzzy Zoeller won here the first time in ‘79 but people thought it was something that you need a lot of experience to be able to do. In recent years, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have both come very close to doing it and a lot of people are talking about you as having a real opportunity here. Do you approach this tournament thinking, yeah, I know I can win it or do you feel like experience is something that you’re just trying to get this week?
A: If I didn’t think I could win it, I wouldn’t be here. Truly, Torrey Pines is not one of the places rookies usually win for the first time and I was able to do it. Obviously this is different. It’s a major and my first time in Augusta. It’s very, very impressive. I’m going to tee it up believing that I can win, competing to win. I might do it; I might not but that’s how I do it.
Q: How you’re going to be able to handle the emotions of playing in your first Masters?
A: I’ll be very excited on the first tee. I know the first tee shot I’m going to be really, really pumped up, so I don’t know how it’s going to go. … I want that, oh, my God, I’m playing in the Masters moment, to be as short as possible. I know it’s going to happen. It might take one hole or two holes but I want it to go away as soon as possible.
Q: Looking back, the decision to come to Arizona State, instead of turning pro earlier, what were the factors involved in that?
A: Simply two of them. No. 1, and the one that is 95 percent of the reason why I didn’t turn pro, I promised my parents that I was going to graduate. Simply that. There was a very small chance I was going to turn pro early no matter what happened. And No. 2 is that when it came to junior year, once I finished fifth in Phoenix, I just didn’t see myself ready yet. I felt like I wasn’t mentally ready and there was a lot of things to take care of before I was going to feel ready to turn professional. Obviously I was the only one from my family in the country. I had no place to live, no golf course to practice at, no resources, right. So I don’t think it would have been the smartest thing to turn pro, here, right. And my idea was always to start and try to get my PGA Tour card.