HAVEN, WISCONSIN | Help wanted Europe – world No. 1 Jon Rahm seeking numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and more to stave off a potential era of American dominance in the Ryder Cup.
After going 3-0-1 in foursomes and four-ball for Team Europe, Rahm’s shoulders were simply not strong enough to carry a continent’s hopes of sustaining its glory against a stable of young American thoroughbreds intent on changing the narrative in these biennial matches between Europe and the United States.
Rahm got boat-raced in Sunday’s singles by rookie captain’s pick Scottie Scheffler, but he played the role this week of the best player in the world and established himself as the new leader of the next generation of European Ryder Cuppers.
Even in defeat, he’s written himself into the rich Spanish tapestry of Ryder Cup that includes legends Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and his partner for three victories this week, Sergio García.
“When you’re born in Spain, the Ryder Cup is something special,” Rahm said. “There’s a lot of legacy in this event between Seve and Ollie and the player (García) who’s got the most amount of Ryder Cup points for Team Europe in history.
“It’s a lot to live up to, I’m not going to lie. It’s a lot of expectation when you’re a Spaniard. But that just means … a lot of times we’re called a different word for passionate, but I think that’s when all these great emotions can be used in match play and that’s why in general people have done great.”
Playing his fifth match in three days on Sunday, Rahm looked a little gassed during a start when the younger and fresher Scheffler stepped on the gas. Scheffler birdied the first four holes to race to a 4-up lead and never let Rahm get closer than within three in a 4-and-3 win.
“When you’re born in Spain, the Ryder Cup is something special. There’s a lot of legacy in this event.”
“Yeah, what can you do when somebody has five birdies in the first six holes? It’s not like I was playing bad golf,” said Rahm. “It wasn’t my best, but it wasn’t my worst, either.
“What I had been able to do the first two days, I wasn’t able to today. I was making what I thought were good swings and good putts, and things just weren’t going my way, simple as that. It got to a point where I needed pretty much a miraculous finish, and I didn’t get it.”
That hardly diminishes a performance that garnered more than a third of Europe’s total points. The most satisfying element of the experience for Rahm was drafting another chapter of Spanish Ryder Cup lore with García, who increased his European record point total to 28½ career points in his 10th Ryder Cup. They went 3-0 together, twice meshing brilliantly in foursomes play in which Rahm’s flair for making the dramatic putts rivaled García’s in his heyday.
“I can say those two days, those matches with Sergio, what it means, the history of the game, an admirer of what Seve and Ollie were able to do, to tee it up with him – he’s living Ryder Cup history,” Rahm said.
“To be able to win those matches with them the way we did it, that is undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had on a golf course by far. I’m hoping I can keep playing good enough to be in this team again. I hope we can repeat it because that is something I want to do again.”
“I think you’ll be alright,” interjected Ian Poulter about Rahm’s future Ryder Cup prospects.
“I don't want to take anything for granted,” Rahm continues. “It meant that much to me. I grew up watching (García) play, watching Seve and Ollie, and that legacy is important. They had a great record. I think it was 11-2-2. We started pretty well so far. Not that we are going to beat it, but I hope that we have a chance to keep adding to that.”
García left Whistling Straits gushing about Rahm’s gifts and what he brings to the Ryder Cup table.
“It was awesome just to watch him, the display he gave. He just did what he is, just the No. 1,” García said. “I was the No. 1 spectator watching a great guy do great thing after great thing after great thing.
“So I think for both of us to have the chance of playing together these last couple of days and do as well as we did for our team, it was amazing. It’s something that Jon and I were very excited about. I think the team was very excited about it. … I enjoyed every minute. To be there hitting some shots here and there, and watching what Jon is capable of doing, it was a treat. It was really fun.”
The best move Europe captain Pádraig Harrington made was yielding to the Spaniards’ wishes to play together.
“I think with Jon and Sergio, they really have looked at this, they have matured themselves over the last couple of years into a beautiful position,” Harrington said. “It is the Ryder Cup of course, where Sergio, he is the experienced one, he’s leading out there and he knows he’s playing with the world No. 1. Fantastic for both of them, and they really are very, very comfortable that they are going to get the best out of both of their games.”
“I was the No. 1 spectator watching a great guy do great thing after great thing after great thing.
Whether or not the 26-year-old Rahm and 41-year-old García get the chance to partner again in Ryder Cup competition remains to be seen. But it’s clear Rahm needs more help in two years in Rome, Italy, if Europe is to compete effectively against a young and loaded U.S. team that suffers from none of the scar tissue that past American teams had.
Rory McIlroy can’t play like he did this week. Viktor Hovland should be a spark plug, but he played five matches this week as a rookie and collected only a half point and lost leads greater than two holes in his last four matches. Matt Fitzpatrick’s match record is 0-5 in two career Ryder Cups. Tommy Fleetwood didn’t play with the same confidence without Francesco Molinari as his partner. Shane Lowry is 34 but keen to become a fixture now that he’s had his first taste.
In whatever form the cast of characters takes for 2023, Rahm is the new standard. He went 1-2 in his Paris debut three years ago, but the reigning U.S. Open champion has matured into a leading force in the game. He will need to be reckoned with for years to come and be looked at to pick up the leadership reins with McIlroy.
He’ll move from the backseat behind veterans to the front seat after being the best player in golf through 2021.
“I’m not going to actively go and just make myself, ‘Hey, I’m a leader now,’ because I don’t have that massive of an ego,” Rahm said. “In that case, hopefully like I’ve done so far this year, I’ll let the clubs and the ball do the talking and I’ll leave the speeches and the leadership to the guys that have been doing this for a long time.”
Rahm’s perspective after a COVID-19 setback lost him a chance to win at Memorial helped lift him in his next start at the U.S. Open. His perspective after the biggest Ryder Cup loss by Europe is likely to lead to bigger things as well.
“It just dawned on me that it’s only been 5½ months since my son was born, and there’s been so many things that happened since then,” he said before the matches even started. “It almost feels like it’s been a couple years’ worth of experiences in those five months.
“Besides the setbacks I’ve already talked about extensively, the good moments, the great experiences, the happiness vastly outweighs the setbacks, and that’s all I can say about this year. I became a dad. We’re in a really good place family-wise. I’m very happy at home. It’s been amazing. Got my first major and played really good golf all year round.
“I have nothing to complain about. It’s been amazing. … I think it’s very easy in life to focus on what could have been and what you didn’t have. But it’s good to just realize all the good things that happened and forget about those moments.”
Rahm will never forget about losing 19-9 to the Americans but he’ll also never forget how well he was able to perform this week in the most hostile of environments against the best U.S. team assembled in four decades.
The experience will only make him hungrier. All he needs is some help.
Top: Jon Rahm went 3-1-1, contributing more than a third of Team Europe's total points.