LA JOLLA, Calif. – There is a mistake that is made when good golfers win great championships. Immediately, the question in this world becomes, "But wait, how many more majors can he win?" Instead of staying in the moment, the moment gets projected onto the future canvas of this sport.
However, Jon Rahm is not simply a good golfer. He's an elite one. He is maybe the very best of a group of hall-of-fame golfers. He wins at a 10% clip, which, depending on what window of time you want to look at for different players, is among the very best numbers in the post-Tiger Woods era. Currently, Rory McIlroy Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are at 8%. Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth are at 7%. Rahm clearly stands out in a group of standouts.
Among the top 150 golfers in the world right now, Rahm has the second-best career tee-to-green number (only McIlroy has been better), according to Data Golf. However, Rahm is by far the best putter of anybody in the top 10. He has no holes. There are other guys who have no holes (Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele), but Rahm is able to cash in his seamlessness across statistical silos in the form of wins in ways other golfers are simply unable to do. He has a comprehensive -- and intangible -- sense of the moment that is both a vague reference sportswriters make and also the most obvious thing in the world if you watch sports.
When asked if this major was just a matter of time for Rahm, four-time major winner McIlroy confirmed.
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "100 percent. And he's obviously had success here at this golf course. I don't think there's a golf course where he can't have success on. He's that good of a player. He was a major champion in waiting. It was just a matter of time."
Now Rahm knows what it feels like to win a major in one of the first during which he's truly contended. His eight top-10 finishes in major championships are a bit of a mirage. In fact, one of them (at the 2019 U.S. Open) caused fellow writer, Will Gray, to coin the great term "Wikipedia top 10" as in a top 10 that will look better on his Wikipedia page than it seemed in real life (Rahm never contended in 2019 and rose to T3 on the back of a meaningless Sunday 68).
A U.S. Open win does not unlock every future major, of course, because there is still the matter of all those other hall-of-fame golfers to deal with. There is also the matter of Rahm getting older and settling into life. It can help you or it can hurt you on the course, but you so very rarely stay the same. Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington talked about this at the PGA Championship at Kiawah last month, and it is something I have thought about a lot since then.
"As you gain experience, you lose innocence," said Harrington. "I suppose if you drew a graph, there's a crossing point of equilibrium where you have some experience and a certain amount of innocence and enthusiasm. As you get a little bit older and you get all this experience, on paper people might think you get better with experience. But as I said, you've seen a few things that you know in your game that you probably never wanted to see, so you kind of lose that little bit of, I suppose, innocence. It's not everything it's cracked up to be to have experience."
It will be intriguing to see how Rahm, who is just 26 years old and has played just 122 OWGR events over the course of his career, absorbs these ideas over the years. The thing he has going in his favor is how mature and settled he already seems. He talked Sunday on Father's Day about his son like someone who had been a dad for a decade instead of just 10 weeks.
"He won't remember any of this because he's only 10 weeks old, but I do," said Rahm. "Hopefully in the future, he can grow up to be someone who's proud of his dad. I hope I can provide that example."
Predicting the future is foolish in golf, specifically with major championships where we seemingly dole out two or three times more majors than actually exist to players (sure, J.T. will win seven, but Spieth will probably win nine and Rory will still probably catch Jack). Majors are special because there are so few of them.
Things can break certain ways, too. Those guys above all have very similar winning percentages and very different major championship totals. Yet all the advanced metrics suggest that Rahm is the most likely player in the world to not sit on just one major over the next 15 or 20 years of his career.
I asked the Data Golf folks about him recently, and one of their founders, Matthew Courchene, told me, "Other than Tiger, he's had the best start to his career (in terms of strokes gained) of any young player in the last couple decades." They put his probable major total at 2.3, which maybe seems a bit low until, again, you remember just how few of these things there are and how many unbelievable players are currently in their primes.
Personally, I think Rahm wins more than that. I think three or four or maybe five is in play. I don't think that about Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau or Collin Morikawa, but I do about Rahm. He's elite, but he's underrated as an elite player for a handful of reasons. He wins globally, away from the PGA Tour when some of us are not paying as much attention. He's so young and has played in so few events. To put this in perspective, Rahm has played over 100 fewer events than Jordan Spieth and has three fewer wins (two if you count his Memorial earlier this summer).
Sunday was special, and Rahm said as much afterward. He said after the first few holes that he could feel something in the air. That could be written off as just rhetoric athletes spew, in hindsight, to try and explain how they accomplished what they accomplished. But I felt it, too. Those last few holes felt inevitable. As soon as he poured the putt on No. 17 in, it seemed like the one on No. 18 was going on before he even hit his tee shot there.
Rahm has an aura about him. Maybe some of that is the "not able to be measured by any strokes-gained number" quality he possesses. So as he and the Pacific Ocean atmosphere came to fisticuffs over those last two holes, as he screamed like Novak Djokovic after winning a tiebreaker over Rafa Nadal deep in a grand slam event, his present inevitability felt like a future inevitability. We've seen this reaction so much already over the course of his still-maturing career. Certainly (even though nothing in golf is a certainty!) this was just the first of many major knockout blows delivered by the very best of all the best players in this game.