Man of magic

Ryder Cup 2023: Jon Rahm remains Europe’s man of magic

September 29, 2023

Patrick Smith

ROME — On the 18th green at Marco Simone, just before Jon Rahm took an eagle putt that he almost certainly needed to make in order to halve his match against World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, his playing partner Nicolai Hojgaard—out of the hole, as he'd been out of most holes late in the day after a terrific front nine—approached him with a message.

"Do it for Seve."

It was a perfectly calculated thing to say at the perfect time, and Rahm proceeded to hit his eagle putt—at great pace—straight at the hole, where it bounced off the back of the cup, popped briefly into the air and then fell.

You could say that it was a lucky shot, just as you could say that his chip-in on 16 in the same match to save that hole was lucky. You would be right. But you might be missing a larger point, which is that along with his incredible skill, Rahm seems to possess the ability to summon magic in the biggest moments at this event. And as Hojgaard intuited, this bears a resemblance to nobody as much as one of Rahm's heroes, and the man he thanked in the aftermath of his Masters victory: the late Seve Ballesteros.

Make no mistake, though; Rahm has plenty of non-magical, earthly talent. After securing 1.5 points on Friday with a 4-and-3 opening-match win with Tyrrell Hatton over Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, and the half point in the afternoon, Rahm stood atop the strokes-gained rankings (+7.25 on the day) by a significant amount. In other words, he was the best player on either team.

But the moments we'll remember are the massive putts, the chip-ins, and the pervasive sense that he is never out of a hole. When asked how it's possible for him to keep producing these moments, he tried his best to describe it.

"I don't know. I don't know," he said. "You know, it's the intention of the moment, right, and then the fact that something happens is truly unique."

As to the resemblance to Seve, he could only laugh.

"I don't know if he would have quite made it like that," he said, "but I'm sure glad that it went in."

Hojgaard admitted that his partner "Rahmbo" carried him at the end of the match, but as if to prove that he's a great teammate on top of everything else, Rahm made sure to lift up the rookie.

"We wouldn't have had a chance if it wasn't for him on the front nine," he said. "I kind of rode his back the rest of the front nine ... I mean, he says I took over, but he did his part, right. He made the crucial shots when he needed to and to give us a chance. It's a partnership and he did 50 percent and I tried to do my part on the last 50 percent."

A player like Rahm is a gift to Europe, and an embodiment of the spirit that has seen them win more than they've lost since players from the continent joined the team and changed the course of Ryder Cup. If Europe wins in Italy, as it seems they're likely to do following Friday's thorough drubbing, Rahm will be the figure at the vanguard, leading them out at almost every opportunity. And if a certain amount of magic is his natural inheritance from predecessors like Ballesteros, he's shown that he knows how to deploy it at just the right moment.