The 20-year-old golfer is one of the most exciting players on the PGA Tour, and he’s also a reminder of the devastating injuries that can occur in the sport. A few years ago, the golf world was stunned when the young Spaniard was hit in the head by a wayward tee shot: the left side of his head flew off the club, and he ended up with a concussion and serious brain damage. His life was saved by life-saving surgery, but it’s still no guarantee of a long and healthy career.
When you think of a great golfer, one of the first things that comes to mind is the tremendous amount of skill it takes to play the “golf game” as it has been described for over a century. This isn’t necessarily the case however, as golfers like Jon Rahm prove. Rahm is a professional golfer who has been around the block long enough to know a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful golf player. Rahm also has a fascinating backstory that is almost as interesting as his golf game.Jon Rahm’s unconventional swing doesn’t come close to Jim Furyk’s “a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth” approach, as coined by renowned commentator David Feherty. What Rahm’s seemingly half-hearted backswing does do, however, is win tournaments against the world’s best golfers.
At the moment, Rahm is on the sort of run that might just add a British Open championship to the U.S. Open title he won last month. It all goes back to an ankle that doctors broke shortly after he was born 26 years ago.
Jon Rahm is positioned to overtake Dustin Johnson for the No. 1 world ranking heading into the 149th British Open. | Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rahm only arrived on the PGA Tour as a full-time member in 2016, but he has made quite the impression already. He has won tournaments in five consecutive seasons, and two of his last three have been The Memorial in 2020 and the U.S. Open last month.
Rahm was the runaway leader at The Memorial this spring when a positive COVID-19 test forced him out of the tournament after the third round, and it’s the reason he has slipped behind No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Ranking. The betting public believes he will remedy that situation this week, in no small part based upon his 11 top-10 finishes in the last 15 tournaments he was able to complete.
With six titles on the PGA Tour and another half-dozen on the European circuit since 2017, he has already rolled up $30 million in purses to go along with his first major championship. Given his age and skill level, Rahm could be racking up plenty more majors over the next 15 years.
The fact that Rahm is an elite golfer at all is amazing because of the circumstances surrounding his birth in Barrika, Spain.
“I was born with a club foot on my right leg, which means that my right leg up to the ankle was straight, my foot was 90 degrees turned inside and basically upside down,” he told reporters gathering at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, site of the 149th British Open. “So, when I was born, they basically pretty much broke every bone in the ankle, and I was casted within 20 minutes of being born from the knee down.
The casts required frequent changing, and his legs did not grow at the same rate. Today, his right leg is approximately half an inch shorter than his left, and he does not have as much mobility in the ankle.
The result is a balance issue that he has compensated for in his golf game by taking a shorter backswing.
“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,” he said.
The first thing that many golf fans notice about Rahm out on the course is that he has a shorter backswing than many PGA Tour players. The second thing they notice is how fluid the swing looks.
Rahm said this week was the first time that reporters asked about the origin of his somewhat unconventional swing. Talking about it now should put to rest the comments he occasionally hears about his “tight hips.”
“If you know anything about golf, that is the stupidest thing to say,” he said.
What he sacrifices by starting the downstroke from a lower position, Rahm gains with fluidity that translates into accuracy.
It’s why he is a respectable 21st on the PGA in average driving distance this season but fifth in hitting greens in regulation. And when he’s hitting his approach from a fairway, Rahm climbs to third in greens in regulation. With reliability like that, being 47th in putts per round doesn’t sting quite as much.
If Furyk was killing snakes in a phone booth, then Rahm is cutting down the competition with the shortest and sweetest of swings.
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