2023 Masters champion Jon Rahm stays connected to Valley, Arizona State on PGA Tour rise

Jon Rahm celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Sunday. The news was celebrated by many who followed his career at Arizona State. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In 2016 Rahm became the first two-time recipient of the Ben Hogan Award since its inception in 1990. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

While at Arizona State, Rahm won 11 collegiate golf tournaments, trailing only Phil Mickelson, who won 16. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

As a freshman in 2013, Rahm fired an NCAA Championship opening-round record of 61, setting the stage for a standout collegiate career. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

PHOENIX – Not only did Jon Rahm end the day at Augusta National Golf Club with a green jacket, but he also wrote his name in the history books. Rahm’s victory Sunday made him the first European player to win both the Masters and the U.S. Open, two of professional golf’s four major tournaments.

In claiming the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking Sunday, the former Arizona State Sun Devil checked off another feat on his journey that started in Tempe — where he had to learn a new language and how to control his emotions.

“He was fiery and feisty, but he let it control him,” said Arizona State’s women’s golf coach Missy Farr-Kaye, who was an assistant in the program during Rahm’s college days. “He hadn’t learned to tame it and use it to his advantage.”

His time as a Sun Devil came with unique struggles. Entering college his freshman year, he knew little English, if any at all. He had to change his classes because lecture halls were too intimidating. He played golf with passion, but sometimes that passion got in the way of his improvement.

Although that might have slowed his progression, it didn’t stop his raw talent.

During his freshman year, Rahm led the nation with 165 birdies, beating NCAA champion and now fellow PGA tour player Max Homa by three. His sophomore year, he won ASU’s home tournament, the Thunderbird Invitational, with a stunning 21-under-par scorecard and led the nation in eagles for the second straight year with 12.

Rahm’s ability to hone his skills was in part thanks to his coach at Arizona State, Tim Mickelson, who was also at the Masters caddying for his slightly more famous brother, Phil.

“Tim was really patient with him and a huge part of his growth,” Farr-Kaye said.

The national attention surrounding Rahm developed in his junior season when he tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open as an amateur. He became the first amateur to finish in the top five of a PGA TOUR event since Chris Wood at the 2008 British Open. During his senior year, the accolades kept coming. He won the 2016 Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award and finished his collegiate career ranked No. 1 by the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

However, the frustration of a game that requires an even-keeled mentality continued to challenge Rahm throughout the first few years of his professional career. His quick temper continued and gave him a reputation as a hothead.

“We talked a little bit about what changed when he realized on tour that it wasn’t working … he just made a decision that he didn’t want to be that person,” Farr-Kaye said. “You can talk all day long about somebody four-putting the first hole and then going on and winning (as Rahm did at Augusta National), but to know the player that he was seven or eight years ago, that never would have happened.”

Rahm first competed in the Masters in 2017, when he finished tied for 27th place. For the next four years, he finished inside the top 10 before tying again for 27th in 2022.

In this year’s edition of the tournament, the Spaniard was in eighth place after a 7-under-par score of 65 in the first round. A 3-under second round gave him possession of first place before dropping to third place after a 1-over par third round. Rahm trailed Brooks Koepka, his playing partner for the day, heading into the final round, but Koepka’s 3-over-par score left him tied for second with Phil Mickelson.

“Jon played an amazing back nine … he played some incredible golf all week long and he’s a very worthy champion,” Phil Mickelson said. “It’s easy to see why he’s regarded as the best player in the world and he validated that today.”

Rahm has had his eyes set on a green jacket for a long time. While playing at Arizona State, Rahm posted a picture of a fortune cookie message on Twitter, which read, “Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.” Above that picture, he commented, “I am gonna win the masters!” and tagged Tim.

“If there’s anything better than accomplishing something like (winning the Masters), it’s making history,” Rahm said Sunday. “To be the first to do something like that, it’s a very humbling feeling … I was starting to think I was never going to win a major again unless it was at Torrey Pines.”

From birth, Rahm faced challenges that would affect the way he trained to play golf. He was born with a clubfoot. Though his leg was straight, his right foot was turned 90 degrees inside. The hospital had to break the bones in his foot and re-cast his foot once a week to get it to grow properly. Because of this, Rahm’s right ankle has limited mobility and his right leg is slightly shorter than the left.

“I learned at a very young age that I’m going to be more efficient at creating power and be consistent from a short swing,” Rahm said. “If I take a full (turn) to parallel, yeah, it might create more speed, but I have no stability. My ankle just can’t take it.”

Despite his busy schedule playing on the PGA Tour as well as in other events around the world, Rahm has stayed connected to his college roots. He married his wife, Kelley, who he started dating at ASU. He resides in Scottsdale and often plays golf with former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz and retired Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt.

At the green jacket ceremony following the conclusion of the Masters, Rahm gave Ertz a shoutout for a text Ertz sent earlier in the week.

“He sent a text – I’m going to paraphrase here – ‘that first green is looking like a walk in the park,’ 10 minutes before I four-putted to start the tournament,” Rahm said, drawing laughter.

In addition to his time spent golfing with friends in the offseason and raising his two kids, Rahm’s proximity to his alma mater allows him to give back to the school that helped him get to where he is today.

A close look at Rahm when he’s playing will reveal that he always carries a yardage book with a Sun Devil logo sticker affixed to it.

He visits the Thunderbird Golf Complex in Tempe to practice his own game and talk to and teach the Sun Devils, not only about how to improve in the game of golf, but the life lessons he has learned along the way.

“He says, ‘You make your mistakes, but you’ve got to grow from it, you’ve got to learn,’” Farr-Kaye said. “He likes to push them and challenge them … it’s really important (to him) to come back and give back and inspire the next generation.”

Paul Schulz pawl shults (he/him)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Paul Schulz expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism before pursuing master’s in mass communication. Schulz is the president of Inferno Intel and has interned with Arizona’s Family and Varsity Sports Show in broadcasting and production roles.