Four years ago, Jon Rahm was graduating from high school in Spain with plans to go to Madrid to continue his education. A dominant junior golfer in Spain, he had not been recruited by college coaches in the United States. That is, until Arizona State’s golf coach, Tim Mickelson, was contacted by a friend in Spain who works with junior golfers and had firsthand knowledge of the talent Jon possessed.
It is rare to recruit a player sight unseen, but Tim trusted this friend (and his gut) and sent an e-mail to Jon’s parents offering him a scholarship to ASU. The next day he received an e-mail from Jon and his father accepting the offer. It would prove to be the shortest, easiest, and most productive recruiting experience of Tim’s career.
Two months later, a 17-year-old Jon showed up at the airport alone, knowing no English; at least not enough to hold a conversation. I remember asking Tim (who is my brother) how it went picking up his new recruit from the airport and how he was settling in. He said, "I’m not quite sure. I mean, he seems great. But we can’t have a conversation. He can’t speak English." When I asked how he communicated with Jon, Tim replied, "I use a lot of hand gestures."
Fortunately, there was another player on the team who spoke Spanish. They became friends fast, and he would translate for Jon. As time went on, though, Tim noticed that Jon was relying a little too much on his friend and not learning English for himself. Tim had to make a tough decision. He felt the best thing for Jon was to require all players to speak English at all times. He didn’t want to make an already tough situation harder for Jon, but he also knew that Jon would never learn the language if he was not required to speak it. This would prove to be extremely helpful to Jon, especially when it came to his college courses, which were, of course, all in English.
Jon proceeded to become more and more comfortable in the United States and at ASU. He was the #1 player on the team, and even with a busy tournament schedule he was able to keep his grades up. It was clear he was a standout.
This became even clearer when he received the Ben Hogan Award as the outstanding college player (the equivalent of football’s Heisman Trophy), as both a Junior and Senior, making him the only player to achieve such a feat. Phil Mickelson is the only player with more wins in ASU history.
Jon graduated from ASU in May 2016 and as he began to think about his future, he reflected on his relationship with Tim; how Tim took a chance on him without even meeting him in person, and how Tim was there for him to help with the transition into a brand new world. Jon could not imagine taking the next step in his journey without having Tim by his side. The timing was right, as Tim just wrapped up his final year of a 5-year contract with ASU. It was a tough decision for Tim not to return to ASU but he wanted to be by Jon’s side to help him ease into his next stage. Jon signed with golf’s industry-leading agency, Lagardére Unlimited, with Tim as his agent.
Jon has already earned enough money in just 4 PGA Tour events to earn his PGA Tour Card for the 2017 season.
How does he fare against PGA Tour players? He finished tied for fifth at the 2015 Waste Management Open, ahead of Jordan Spieth, and T23 and T59 in the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship, respectively. With a closing round of 67 in the RBC Canadian Open, Jon finished one shot behind winner Jhonattan Vegas.
2017 should prove to be an exciting year on the PGA Tour as this talented player embarks on the next phase of his career.