There’s a saying in Spain that every baby comes with a loaf of bread under their arm.
For Jon Rahm, the arrival of his first child, son Kepa, in April didn’t necessarily bring a U.S. Open victory but rather a “sense of presence and priority,” he said recently on Golf.com’s Subpar Podcast with Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz.
Rahm explained that his newfound calmness as a father really manifested following the third round of the PGA Championship in May. After finishing bogey-bogey to shoot 72, Rahm begrudgingly stepped onto the interview podium. He had just seen Phil Mickelson reach double-digits under par and knew his chances of winning were gone.
Jon, maybe not the ending you wanted, but in your estimation on the golf course, does this open things up for the leaders to score a little bit this afternoon?
“I don’t know, and I don’t care, to be honest,” a heated Rahm answered. “… I really don’t want to be here right now.”
The interview ended after just one question.
“I didn’t handle that my best,” Rahm said in retrospect. “I was a little embarrassed.”
For much of his golf career, Rahm has credited his emotions for helping him find that “extra gear” on the course. He pointed to the final round of the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, where he began running hot after lipping out a birdie putt on the 10th hole – “I am losing my freaking mind. I am so pissed.” – before telling his caddie, Adam Hayes, on the next tee box, “I’m going to win this thing.” An angry Rahm birdied No. 11 and made two back-nine eagles to win at Torrey Pines.
“In the past, I have probably not behaved my best on the golf course, and there have been times where my emotions have gotten the best of me, but for 99% of my career, getting angry has helped me,” Rahm said.
“But… at the same time, there have been some where it hasn’t.”
When Rahm returned to his accommodations that evening after his terse PGA interview and looked at Kepa, something clicked. All those years of working on his mental game – a steady improvement, he says, but admittedly not void of setbacks – suddenly made complete sense.
“I’m aware that I’ve been a role model in the past to people but not in a direct way like this,” Rahm said. “I look at my son, who’s two months old and is smiling and playing with me, and I’m looking at him like, to this guy it doesn’t matter if I win 15 majors, 17, 65 or, saying it badly, I s— the bed the next whatever weeks of my life; he truly doesn’t care. But what I can do is be a good role model for him. He’s going to learn from what I do, he’s going to see what I do and try to copy form me, he will learn from me, so I have to try to be the best role model possible for my son.
“I didn’t tell anybody this, and I don’t think anybody knew: I made a deal with myself, and that next day I went to the golf course, started playing and I was feeling the exact same way game-wise, but for whatever reason, mistakes kind of just floated through me like nothing had happened.”
For example, on the first hole, Rahm hit a wedge shot that landed right next to the pin but trundled well past. He had to fight just to scrap together a par.
“I look at my caddie, Adam, and I’m like, ‘Man, that was a great wedge shot,’ when in the past I probably would’ve complained and tried to blame somebody else,” Rahm said. “… I think I had one of those moments of realization just by looking at my son. I feel like everything that I learned kind of clicked, and after that the golf I played has been unbelievable.”
Rahm’s competitive rounds since: 68, 69, 65, 64, 69, 70, 72, 67, 66, 65 (and he’s in contention at this week’s Scottish Open). He’s also proven his maturation away from the scorecard, handling with poise a devastating COVID-19 withdrawal while leading big at Memorial and redeeming himself in the press center all week at the U.S. Open – even while being tested by another question about his temper following the second round at Torrey.
How close were you today to losing your temper, and what allowed you to maintain it?
“Am I ever going to escape that question?” Rahm began, before answering. He says as much as it annoys him, he understands why he continues to face similar questions.
“I do also think it’s fair for them to ask the question,” Rahm said. “They need to write, they need to try to sell, and sometimes media can be really quick to make a thing your thing – mine is getting mad, Phil’s is hitting bombs. … Why else would they always talk about Bryson every single day about him hitting drivers, right? It’s just the one thing they categorize you as, and they’re always going to talk about it.
“I’m always going to get that question.”
Only now he’s mostly comfortable answering it. Credit young Kepa for that.
Rahm may play better angry 99% of the time, but it was that other 1% that won him his biggest title to date.
“In retrospect, looking back on it, I don’t think I would have won a major had I kept going the way I had,” Rahm said. “It’s easy at regular events, but when you’re magnified in a major and everything matters more, I was always really aware, and there were a lot of times when I had par putts where I’d be trying so hard to make it just because I wanted it so bad. And it’s not always the negative emotions; I had to control the wanting to win it so bad. … I’ve lost majors because of it, being fully honest. But those are things that had to happen for me to get to where I am right now.”