• • •
Arizona State freshman Jon Rahm, a native of Spain, was exactly that on Tuesday during the first round of the NCAA Championship at The Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course. Rahm shot a competitive course-record 9-under 61, which included 10 birdies and a bogey.
“It’s probably the best I’ve putted in my life,” said Rahm.
“Jon is an excellent player and he plays his best golf on really tough golf courses,” said ASU head coach Tim Mickelson. “So I wouldn’t say I saw it coming, but he told me this morning his putting felt very good. I’m not surprised.”
He birdied his first hole, No. 10, when he stuck his approach shot to six feet. He three-putted No. 11, but bounced back with consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13.
He said that No. 13 was when his round really got going as he missed the green left at the 160-yard par-3. He left himself with a difficult chip, but that he hit it perfectly and on the last roll it dropped.
As of five days ago, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, said his short game was not good. He talked with his coach back in Spain, Eduardo Culles via ‘What’s Up App Videos,’ and he helped fix his issues.
It worked, as Rahm finished his Tuesday round with seven birdies over his final 14 holes.
“This course is similar to many European courses,” Rahm added. “I love the grass, I love the way it is set up and I love the greens.”
He sure did — hitting all nine greens in regulation on the front nine at Crabapple and making putts ranging from 10 to 40 feet.
Rahm’s long ball allowed him to be four yards short of the green at the par-4 5th, where he proceeded to make his ninth birdie of the day.
Thoughts of 59 crept into his mind when he had a-15 footer on No. 6, but he missed and went on a three-hole stretch of pars. He finished the day with an 8-foot birdie at the last and a fist pump ensued.
The 61 was Rahm’s best round of his Arizona State career. In the fall he shot a 64 at Pumpkin Ridge during the Pac-12 Preview.
“He obviously knows that he played a great round, but he’s going to want to try and back it up tomorrow with something low again,” said Mickelson.
Rahm was a late — very late — recruit for the Sun Devils. It was always a Rahm’s dream to come and play college golf in America. He had only one scholarship offer and it wasn’t to come and play until the fall of 2013. Rahm didn’t want to wait another year.
Last May, Mickelson added him as a friend on Facebook.
“I was thinking ‘Who is this guy?’” Rahm said with a laugh.
The next day, Rahm’s father received an email from Mickelson offering him scholarship to play at Arizona State.
He follows a long list of Spanish players to play at Arizona State like 2003 NCAA individual champion Alejandro Canizares.
He had no time to make an official visit to Tempe so he really had to “believe in and trust what they told me (about the university).”
“I am really, really enjoying it. It’s one of the best years I’ve had.”
There is a 10-year Sun Devil NCAA Champion cycle — a Sun Devil has won the NCAA individual title in 1983, 1993 and 2003. Rahm could be the fifth individual champion for ASU.
“This is my kind of course. . . this is perfect,” Rahm said.
El tiempo dirá.