SCOTTSDALE – Rarely does the day come when world No. 1 golfer Jon Rahm is not the center of attention in a round of golf. But as the former Arizona State standout made his nine-hole walk around TPC Scottsdale’s back-nine Wednesday morning, it was clear a potential 2021 NFL MVP was the star of the show.
In a star-studded Annexus Pro-Am field littered with an Olympic champion (Michael Phelps), Heisman winner (Reggie Bush) and stand-up comedian (Rob Riggle), Rahm got in some prep for the WM Phoenix Open with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Although Rodgers didn’t want to speak about football, he did acknowledge the impressiveness of watching Rahm play in person, pointing out the short, explosive swing possessed by Rahm.
“I think there are a lot of similarities with people at the height of their game,” Rodgers told Cronkite News. “Obviously, Jon is the No. 1 player in the world and I’ve been playing at a really high level for a long time. It’s the ability to recreate what you do well over and over. The consistency is what separates Jon from his competitors and myself from a lot of my contemporaries.”
Just like the hoard of spectators who peppered Rodgers with requests to stay in Green Bay or move elsewhere, Rahm had similar thoughts. Two weeks after Rodgers and the Packers suffered another heartbreaking playoff loss in the NFC Divisional Round, Rahm tried to pry future plans out of the former Super Bowl MVP.
“There wasn’t much brain-picking,” Rahm said of the on-course dialogue between him and the 37-year-old quarterback. “I tried to get out of him what he is going to be doing next year. I think I bothered him a little bit because I was one more of 3,000 people that asked him those first few holes.”
The two mega-superstars teed off at the 10th hole shortly after 9:30 a.m. and enjoyed a jovial walk at the greenest show on grass, responding to fans and others following along. When Rahm’s approach shot into the 11th green nestled roughly 15 feet from the hole, a police officer poked fun at the 2021 U.S. Open champion.
“I’ve seen better,” the officer said, prompting a quick “I know” from a smiling Rahm who understood that the 15-footer was far from his best work.
While other groups were afforded a quieter environment, rabid fans requested pictures with and signatures from Rodgers during each walk from green to tee. As autograph requests were begged for ahead of tee shots at the par-3 12th, Rodgers paused and directed everyone’s attention to Rahm.
“This is Jon Rahm. No. 1 player in the world. We’re going to be quiet and watch him,” Rodgers said, earning a thank you from Rahm shortly before his tee shot wound up inside 10 feet of the hole.
The two mega-stars enjoyed each other’s company throughout the mid-morning as Rahm prepares for more success in the WM Phoenix Open and Rodgers gets set to head to Los Angeles for Thursday night’s NFL Honors. Dating back to his junior year at Arizona State, when Rahm finished in fifth place appearing as an amateur in the event, the Spaniard has never finished below 16th place in six trips to TPC Scottsdale.
“It’s fun to see him mess with me and interact with the crowd and try to put me off,” Rahm said. “It’s also even way more enjoyable after he’s done that to see how nervous he gets. You know? The guy plays in front of a crowd every week and seeing him hit bad shots, the second shot on 18. Jesus Christ. For that good of a caliber of player, that shot came out like a home run and it’s all due to nerves.
“It’s just funny to see somebody who’s out there who is an MVP, one of the best quarterbacks of all time be that nervous. We had a great group. It was really enjoyable – it was fun. It’s too bad it was only nine holes.”
The stadium course’s featured 16th hole warmed itself up for the weekend with visits from an array of big names. Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler, each defending champions in the event during the past three years, made appearances throughout the afternoon, along with other stars like Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen and former World Series champion CC Sabathia. With the iconic setup at 16 lively throughout a Wednesday morning, Colt Knost said the Pro-Am helps separate the Phoenix Open from other events on the PGA Tour.
“It’s just an absolute party all week,” said Knost, the co-host of Golf’s Subpar podcast. “There is never a spot on the PGA Tour with this many people out on a Wednesday to watch a pro-am. You think most people have to work, but apparently they don’t here in Phoenix.”