Jon Rahm has 'that' thing Rory doesn't
They all have it, the great players. Something intangible, unlearnable, invaluable. It’s a will that gets the ball in the hole.
You can see it in the eyes, a concentrated focus and complete confidence that they are going to win this thing. You can see it in the way they move, a demonstrative stride cutting through any drab atmosphere of doubt.
They do the remarkable when required. Over the opening 63 holes you may see missed short putts, lipped out lagged putts or sloppy drives. But when they come down the stretch, a switch is flicked. The finisher emerges.
Putts that appear to be missing almost seem to melt into the hole. Wedge shots sit when told and come to a startled stop. Drives bound down the centre of fairways, without a glance at the hazards. All while the player holds the stare.
Jon Rahm has it. We saw him rise to the occasion yesterday, with monumental putts on the 17th and 18th holes. But you could see it as he stood on the first tee on Sunday at Torrey Pines. He was winning this thing and if you tried to get in his was he’d just putt around you. Like Happy in the play-off. He was going to drag himself to the top of that leaderboard no matter what happened.
In contrast there’s Rory McIlroy. Possessing a swing concocted by the golfing gods, he has it all, and then some. Apart from this mystical killer instinct, bestowed upon just a few. He is one of the great ball strikers of all time. But when he has a dribbly one down the stretch to salvage par, you wouldn’t bet a sleeve of balls on it. It just doesn’t feel like it is going to go in.
Louis Oosthuizen is another fantastic player, but is unable to do something magical in the crunch moments. He played outstanding golf, plodding around, putting the ball in the necessary spots to have looks at birdies. But when he needed to tap into top gear that separates the best, he was unable to shift.
The clearest example of this overwhelming will to win is, of course, Tiger. It’s that killer instinct, knowing when to strike in order to nullify your competition. Believing that you can do something everyone watching thinks is unlikely.
When Rahm dropped those 2 putts on the closing holes, the celebration wasn’t gleeful jubilation. It was aggressive. Like a Tiger fist pump. You worried for anyone that came in for a high five. He’s fired up, he’s busting through the doors. He knew that putt was going in and when it drops he’s saying ‘how you like them apples’.
Seeing him play this way suggests he will accumulate many more major championships. While some wilt in the pressure cooker, others rise. Rahm has proven at the highest level he enjoys the heat of competition. Good luck to anyone trying to get in the way of the new world number one.