As the Jack Nicklaus Gold Medal was being hung around Dustin Johnson’s neck following his major breakthrough at the 2016 US Open, Jon Rahm was standing just a few yards away.
The Spaniard had finished in a tie for 23rd at Oakmont to win the low amateur spoils on his first major start. A week later, he turned pro.
Eighteen months on, he is established as one of the world’s top golfers, is a winner on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour and, at the time of going to print, is fourth on the Official World Golf Rankings.
He has, to put it bluntly, come a seriously long way in an obscenely short space of time.
This is an era of hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake, a time in which a ‘legend’ is a guy who stands his round at the 19th hole and in which holing an important putt is classed as ‘brave’. And yet there are few words you could use to describe Rahm’s ascent to the top of the game that even the most literal and hardened of cynics could take issue with.
It has been meteoric. It has been exceptional. It has been astonishing.
For me, Jon Rahm is the most exciting golf talent to emerge since Tiger Woods. You might think that an extraordinary thing to say considering the competition. There’s Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson to name but four.
Still, there’s something about Rahm that sets him apart.
I can only explain it like this: it feels like he has always been part of the conversation. He’s been pro for little over a year and yet it feels like he has been around for years and years.
Think about it. When was the last time that there was a big event, such as a major or a WGC, when Rahm wasn’t touted as a possible winner? And yet he has only played in six majors and four World Golf Championships to date. Incidentally, of those three WGCs, he has been third once and runner-up another time.
At this year’s Masters - just his third major start - he was 25/1 to win the Green Jacket. Only six players had shorter odds, and that’s despite the fact that no first-timer has won at Augusta National since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
On the PGA Tour, he has banked over $7m in on-course earnings – twice as Arnold Palmer made in his entire PGA Tour career. Since turning professional, he has made 36 starts worldwide, racking up three wins and, almost as impressively, 13 top-five finishes.
But it’s not just about how talented a player he is; he has bags of personality to go with it. Good stuff and bad stuff.
He plays with an enormous amount of energy. When things are going well, he shows it. Equally, when they’re going badly, he resorts to fits of pique that would make any of his fellow hot-blooded Latin compatriots blush.
Some people hate that - but not me. I love it. It shows character. It shows that he cares. It shows that he is determined to strain every single last drop of talent out of himself. Give me that over any emotion-suppressing Tiger-clone any day of the week.
Whist I can’t ever dream of identifying with Rahm’s game, I can identify with his passion and his determination. He’s just brilliant to watch.
More than anything, I can’t wait to see Rahm in the Ryder Cup next year. Barring injury, he is an absolute shoo-in to qualify for Thomas Bjorn’s European team. The prospect of he and Patrick Reed going at each other in the Sunday singles should make any golf fan salivate.
These aren’t things that you typically say about somebody who, as recently as last year, was playing in the Arizona State University Thunderbird Invitational. But that alone tells you everything you need to know about Rahm. He is a legitimate phenomenon. And, having only turned 23 last week, he’s just getting started.
He’ll win multiple majors and be a world No.1 for a long time to come. I’m utterly convinced of it.
Be under no illusions: this guy is the real deal.