Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Third-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm learned the hard way how Augusta National treats newcomers, settling for 27th last year in a highly touted Masters debut.
Now the 23-year-old is getting much less attention ahead of the year’s first major tournament, but he owns a January win at PGA West and could take the world number one spot by claiming a green jacket.
And most of all, he has learned about Augusta National and the tricks about where to land the ball to attack the famed course where possible.
“The margin of error is so small. But if you play smart, you can manage it,” said Rahm. “People who have won here numerous times, it’s because they know it.”
That’s why Rahm turned to three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Spanish countryman Jose Maria Olazabal for Masters shotmaking lessons.
“Phil knows all those shots better than anybody. He knows when he can be aggressive and when he can’t,” Rahm said.
“I just needed to get some knowledge about the golf course. I talked to Phil about it, I talked to Olazabal about it and they gave me some really valuable advice that I’ll try to put into work this week. But at the end you need to play good golf.”
One lesson Rahm learned is that there’s no simple answer. One of Augusta National’s great tests is how many ways golfers can play, some tempted into trouble, some turning risk into reward.
“If there’s 5,000 ways to play one regular course, there’s probably about 50,000 ways to go around Augusta National, and that’s the beauty of it,” Rahm said.
“Because each shot, you can have so many ways to hit it. There’s no perfect way. You don’t need to play perfect to win at Augusta National just because there are so many ways to do. You just need to find the way that’s maybe best for you at the moment.”
To overtake Dustin Johnson atop the rankings, Rahm must win, have Johnson miss the top eight and Justin Thomas miss the top three. Rahm already missed a chance at the top spot earlier this year, so surprised he was at having it.
“It was not expected to have a chance this early in a year,” he said. “But it was great because I know how it felt to have a chance at number one. You need to win to become number one. Nobody’s going to give it to you.”
Rahm spent most of the past week at Augusta testing the course and his options. And his mentality.
“I’m a little more not calm, but confident. Because even last year with the hard conditions we had, I played good and I know I can do it again,” Rahm said.
“So I just know if I stick to my game plan and forget about other things, I’ll have a strong performance this week. Maybe win, maybe not, but hopefully my goal for the year — getting at least in the hunt on Sunday of a major.”