NORTON — Jon Rahm walked up the path to TPC Boston’s 4th tee-box on Saturday, coming off back-to-back birdies to grasp sole possession of first place in the second round of the Dell Technologies Championship.
Fans lining the ropes surrounding the walkway eagerly observed as he placidly dried his hands, having just emerged from the players-only restroom near the end of the trail between Nos. 3 and 4. His playing partners, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, had already hit their tee shots, but Rahm was in no rush.
People wait for you when you’re putting on a show.
Rahm pulled driver, the 4th a reachable par 4, and gave the gallery what it yearned for: a swing so forceful it’s a wonder his ball didn’t fly the green completely, never to be seen again. Though this one strayed right, Rahm appeared unencumbered by the result.
After another stroll, the 22-year-old expertly navigated a native area to the right of the green, chipping to 10 feet before sinking his third straight birdie en route to a 5-under-par 66. Rahm’s round was good enough to propel him into sole possession of first place at 9 under par heading into Sunday’s third round.
Though many golfers muse on the importance of mental fortitude, Rahm is particularly candid and transparent regarding how his psyche affects his livelihood.
The only two-time winner of the Ben Hogan Award — given to the most outstanding male collegiate golfer of the year — in 2015 and 2016, Rahm is no stranger to soaring expectations. But when the Spaniard continued his scorching ways on the PGA Tour, procuring his first win at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and catapulting into the Top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking come May, he hit a wall.
Where does a player go when he’s achieved his goals for the year with spring only just ceding its way to summer?
“The two-month stretch after Colonial that I didn’t play my best golf in the States, it’s probably because I got to the point where I had accomplished so much more than I had set myself to in the beginning of the year that I felt like there was nothing else to do,” Rahm said.
“I had a few goals early on in the year and I ended up accomplishing a lot more than the ones I had in mind. After Colonial, I got into the Top 10 in the world. [That] is kind of what made me complacent.
“I really didn’t have a goal and kind of realized that a couple weeks ago. [I] talked to my mental coach about it, talked to a couple people about it. I really couldn’t understand why all of a sudden I wasn’t playing well.”
Rahm is well aware that his emotionality on the course can at times hinder his play. Corralling that frustration and repurposing it into a different breed of energy is making all the difference.
No stretch better encapsulated the current world No. 5’s psychological growth than TPC’s final three holes — his seventh, eighth, and ninth of the day.
After a drive on the scenic par 3 landed in the right rough, Rahm caught a screamer, sending his ball careening across the diameter of the green and back into more long stuff. Another chip and a missed putt later and Rahm found himself carding the dreaded double square.
In some of his past iterations, Rahm may never have recovered from his flub on 16. But with the New England leaves beginning to shift from green to a rustic autumn brown, Rahm is finding himself once again.
He saved par on No. 17 after finding the bunker. He piped a 309-yard drive down the 18th fairway, then hit a 3-wood “about as perfect as I can” to 12 feet. The ensuing eagle putt fell, concluding an uneven, yet even-par-35, opening nine.
From there, Rahm took off.
“When I made the double bogey on 16, frankly I was not happy about it,” he recalled. “I think I didn’t even watch Hideki hit his 4-footer. I just went straight to the next tee. And from the green to the tee, there were a bunch of people lined up and I must have heard about 50 times, they were pulling for me and to keep my head up and to keep going.
“That always helps you. No matter how bad of a mood you’re in, when you have people that you’ve never met cheering for you, it’s always going to help you.”Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.