The swiftness of Jon Rahm’s journey to the world’s number one spot should ensure it is not a short stay. And the 25-year-old Spaniard won’t need to swing a club in anger this week – he’s not playing in the 3M tournament in Minneapolis – but will still be guaranteed to remain in the top position on the official world rankings, at least ensuring his stay at the top will last longer than Tom Lehman’s back in 1997, which lasted for all of one week!
In truth, the likelihood is that Rahm will remain at or near the top for quite some time. Only two other players, one of them Tiger Woods, the other Jordan Spieth, reached the number one position quicker after turning professional than Rahm, whose victory in the Memorial tournament meant he knocked Rory McIlroy off his perch.
McIlroy's latest stint at the top came either side of the world rankings being frozen for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but each week since the restart has brought with it an expectation of when, rather than if, Rahm would finally get to claim the number one ranking. Winning a tournament , especially one like the Memorial where the host was Jack Nicklaus, was indeed fitting of him reaching one of his career objectives.
For sure, the next box to be ticked in terms of achievements will be for Rahm to claim a Major title, and that opportunity – behind closed doors – will be here quickly, with next month’s US PGA Championship at Harding Park. Although he has played only 13 Majors as a professional so far, Rahm’s Major capabilities are obvious in that he has best-placed finishes of third in a US Open (2019), fourth in the Masters (2018), fourth in the PGA (2018) and tied-11th in the British Open (2019).
In fact, since that third-place finish in last year’s US Open, Rahm’s form has been stellar: the rest of 2019 saw him win three times – the DDF Irish Open, Spanish Open and the DP World – and, in that time, he was outside the top-five just four times in 12 appearances. As if to prove his fallibility, he missed one cut, at the Alfred Dunhill Links. This year, he had four top-10s from five outings before the break due to the pandemic and, after a slow restart, revved up at Muirfield Village to reach the top of the world.
After winning last year’s Irish Open at Lahinch, Rahm talked of his growing maturity. And that theme was again evident following his latest win, the 11th of his professional career worldwide.
“There’s no chance I would have won this tournament four years ago, I can tell you that,” said Rahm of the win in the Memorial, adding: “I’m a person who unfortunately I’m fully aware I learn from mistakes. I act, foolishly or not. I’ll do my action, and I’ll learn from it, good or bad. Luckily I’ve been pretty good at learning from my mistakes and getting a little bit better each time . . . I’ll just say I’m a happier and more mature as a person. It’s as simple as that.”
Rahm, just the second Spaniard after Seve Ballesteros to become world number one, added: “I made that deal with myself very young, I believe at 13 or 14 I started working towards that goal, and everything I’ve done golf-wise has been to become number one in the world and become the best player I can be.
“It’s pretty surreal to think it’s happened this quickly, right, in less than 10 years. I mean, how many people get to achieve a lifelong dream, a short lifelong dream, in their mid-20s? It’s incredible. To be a Spaniard, the second Spaniard to ever do it, given there’s not many Europeans that have gotten to this spot, it’s a pretty unique feeling, so I’m going to enjoy it for a while.”
In fact, Rahm is the 10th European player to reach number one in the rankings, joining a list that features Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, McIlroy and Justin Rose.
For McIlroy, who has had no less than eight different stints as world number one, the longest being his fifth of 54 successive weeks from August 2015 to August 2016, it will be a case of returning to action at next week’s WGC-St Jude Invitational which will again be played without any spectators.
And, of all players during this restart, McIlroy – who has offered only glimpses of his best, with a tied-11th at the Travelers representing his best finish – is the one who appears to have missed the energy drawn from spectators at events. On that front, there is no sign yet of when fans will be allowed on site at tournaments with the PGA Tour ruling that all events to the end of the season will be behind closed doors.