DUBAI, U.A.E. — Jon Rahm last played competitive golf in early October, when he won the Open de España at Club de Campo in Madrid. For the first four weeks of his six-week break, the 25-year-old did not hit a shot much less set foot on a course. But now, Rahm is back, with a clear objective in his mind. Ranked third on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the burly Spaniard knows he has to finish at least T-2 in the DP World Tour Championship if he is to end 2019 as European No. 1.
That's a lot of numbers but not much golf.
“At first it was hard to let down and step away a little bit,” said Rahm, who also sits No. 5 in the World Ranking. “But we spend so much of our life making decisions just for me and for my golf game, that it was nice to tell [fiancée] Kelley, What do you want to do? instead of What do I need to do? Golf is somewhat of a selfish sport in that sense. We ended up doing nothing special. We didn’t go on any trips. Just tried to enjoy time with our friends and family and live as normal a life as possible.”
Rahm is honest enough to admit that after such a prolonged bout of “normality” he has no idea how things will go on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, where he won the European Tour’s season-ending event two years ago. That victory was no surprise, nor would any in the future. The wide fairways on the Greg Norman design are well-suited to a man who ranks inside the Old World circuit’s top-10 in both distance and driving accuracy.
“This is definitely a ball-striker’s golf course, and that’s obviously what suits me,” said Rahm, who is a cumulative 33 under par for his last eight rounds here. “My strength is off the tee, and it’s a course where, if you hit it long, you’re going to give yourself a lot of chances. A lot of the score depends on your tee time and how the wind is blowing. If you tee off late, the wind often dies and you have a chance to make a lot more birdies. I’ve been fortunate enough to tee off late for most of my time here.”
Still, given his lack of preparation, can Rahm really be ready as well as rested? He isn’t sure, but returning to his earlier theme, it was clear he enjoyed his much-needed time away from the game before his upcoming marriage this Christmas.
“I’ve had 10 straight years nonstop without a break like I’ve just had,” Rahm said. “Professional golf is demanding. It was important for me to get away. And this was the only time I could recharge a little bit and make sure I’m going to be fresh for next year. I am fortunate, too, to have been able to take a lot of important weeks off and still have a chance to win the Race to Dubai. Even though it was a smaller event, winning in Spain was important in that sense.”
Ah, yes, next year. Like every other elite performer, Rahm is going to have a busy 2020, especially when the Olympics in Japan are added to an already crowded mix. The prospect of a gold-medal win in Tokyo is one that excites Rahm, but his bigger priority is claiming the major title just about everyone sees as part of his future, immediate or otherwise.
“I’ve had this conversation with quite a few people,” Rahm said in response to the question: Gold medal or major? “Growing up, the Olympics weren’t a possibility. Now it’s a possibility. I was never on the practice green saying, This putt to win a gold medal. I hit many putts to win Masters, Opens, PGAs, hopefully Ryder Cups. But the Olympics never crossed my mind because it wasn’t a possibility. So, as exciting for an athlete as it is to win a gold, I believe it doesn’t have the significance it will have in maybe 10, 20, 30 years. .
“So most of us would probably say a major. I know I would. But that doesn’t discredit how important winning a gold would be. If you win one now, in 30 years it will be seen as a lot more important.”