SANDWICH – Jon Rahm arrived at Royal St. George’s as a newly crowned major champion with the chance to join an elite group of players who have won golf’s two oldest championships in the same year.
Yet, in one way, Rahm already is very different.
In a revelation on Tuesday ahead of the British Open, Rahm said there was a reason for his unusually short backswing, and it couldn't be further from the theories he has heard that the Spaniard has “tight hips.”
“I was born with a club foot on my right leg,” said Rahm, who was eager to take the opportunity to reveal much more.
“My right leg up to the ankle was straight, my foot was 90 degrees turned inside and basically upside down," he said. "So when I was born, they basically relocated it, pretty much broke every bone in the ankle and I was casted within 20 minutes of being born from the knee down. I think every week I had to go back to the hospital to get re-casted.”
His right leg, Rahm said, is a centimeter and a half shorter than his left, meaning he has reduced mobility and stability in his right ankle. Hence the short swing which he learned at a young age, a swing that has propelled him to being the world's best golfer going into the final major of the year.
“Don’t try to copy me,” he said. “Don’t try to copy any swing out there. Just swing your swing.”
It’s unique, and it works.
Rahm won his first major title at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last month, lifting him back to No. 1 in the world ranking for the first time since August 2020. He fell back to No. 2 this week behind Dustin Johnson, though there is no doubting who's in the best form.
In his last four starts dating to the PGA Championship in May, Rahm won the U.S. Open, has two top 10s and had a six-shot lead through 54 holes at the Memorial when he had to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test.
There was a sense of relief at finally becoming a major champion — “I felt like for the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major,” Rahm said — but it hasn’t altered his determination and focus heading to the south of England, where he’ll be playing at Royal St. George’s for the first time since 2009.
That was the British Boys championship, and it was his first ever tournament on a links course.
“There’s still the next one to win,” Rahm said, “so I still come with the same level of excitement obviously and willingness to win.”
A victory would see him become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. With only Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones having also done so, Rahm would be joining quite the pantheon.
He was preparing on Tuesday to get his first proper look at the course, with its rolling, undulating fairways that can throw the ball dramatically offline and its rough that has been made thicker and greener by heavy rain that ruined Rahm’s hopes of a practice round on Monday evening.
He had arrived in Sandwich a few hours earlier, only to get held up initially by coronavirus testing that is part of the strict protocols demanded by the R&A on players for an event where 32,000 spectators will be attending daily from Thursday.
Brooks Koepka, the world No. 8 and a consistent contender at majors, played the front nine under a gray, threatening sky early Tuesday and wasn’t particularly impressed with a course that is unloved by many others, too.
“It’s not my favorite venue that we’ve played,” Koepka said, referring to the 10 links courses on the British Open rotation.
“Quite a few blind tee shots, kind of hitting to nothing,” the four-time major champion added. “Fairways are quite undulating. I don’t know, it’s not my favorite of the rotation, put it that way.”
Tommy Fleetwood, runner-up to Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush in 2019 when the British Open was last played, said the rough was lush and long and the fairways were playing wider and softer because of the rain.
“Obviously the way the bounces work, then it can easily be bouncing off the fairways but they’re not like massively tight,” Fleetwood said. “But if you do hit it offline, you’re going to be lucky to get a lie a lot of the times.”
It has been 52 years since there was an English winner of the Open in England, and Fleetwood — distinctive with his long, curly locks — could be among the home nation’s best chances. He’ll be a popular figure among the biggest crowd since golf returned after the coronavirus outbreak.
“Crowds there or not, I’m still trying to do the same things,” he said. “But I do agree that there’s definitely certain times, certain moments where crowds bring the best out of people.”
Rahm can appreciate the feeling. He is an often spiky, temperamental player known for leaving his emotions out on the course. He'll look to feed off the mass return of spectators and make more history.
“Very excited," Rahm said. ”We’ve missed it."
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