LA QUINTA, Calif. – Jon Rahm shares a group chat with two accomplished NFL pros, Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz and recently retired defensive lineman J.J. Watt. “Complete golf nerds,” he describes them.
Rahm appreciates the commitment and grind to sustain success for a long period of time, notably Watt’s dietary sacrifices to maintain optimal health and recovery levels throughout his career as a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“I mean, eating 10 dry chicken breasts a day has to get old very quickly,” Rahm said.
In the highly competitive world of professional sports, someone’s always coming for those at the mountaintop. Rahm is playing some of the world’s best golf, if not the best, and uncovering all possible clues is essential to maintaining that edge.
Rahm’s current recipe is proving quite effective. He carded a four-round total of 27 under at The American Express for a one-stroke victory over TOUR rookie Davis Thompson, his fourth win in five official starts worldwide. With his ninth career PGA TOUR title, he moves atop the FedExCup standings and continues one of the more impressive hot streaks in recent memory at the game’s highest level.
Two weeks ago, Rahm rallied from six strokes back in the final seven holes to edge Collin Morikawa at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. This week, Rahm shared the 54-hole lead with Thompson at 23 under, and a steady Sunday sufficed. The ultimate edge came at the par-5 16th hole. Rahm’s second shot flirted with a cavernous bunker on the Stadium Course’s iconic San Andreas hole before settling in the fairway, 33 yards from the hole. He pitched to 9 feet and drained the putt, which caught the lip and spun nearly all the way around before dropping.
“I think today was about as comfortable as I’ve been in a long time on the golf course, tee to green,” Rahm said Sunday evening. “Every time I felt like this in the past, I’ve ended up going on to win, just because it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of parts of my game, knowing that basically I'm going to hit the shot that I'm envisioning. And that's a really unique zone to put yourself in.
“That doesn't happen as often as I wish. I wish I could be like that every single time, that I know I'm going to stripe it into the middle of the fairway and hit the shot at the pin. But it doesn't always happen. So I'm glad I enjoyed a day like that today.”
The victories are nice, and Rahm intends to savor this one. Four wins in five official starts is rarified air. But he knows that for those who wish to remain among the game’s elite, there’s no time for complacency. The search for the extra edge is eternal.
That’s where observation of other peak performers comes in. For Rahm, a notable source of inspiration is the late Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and 18-time NBA All-Star.
Rahm felt a connection with Bryant around “obsession” for the craft, and although he takes work-life balance seriously as a husband and father raising a young family, he knows the importance of recognizing the traits that brought him to the game’s highest level – and can keep him there long-term.
“I spent a lot of time (in college) listening to a lot of his interviews and videos, because I see a lot of similarities between us in the way we approach our craft,” Rahm said. “Because ‘craft’ is the key word for Kobe. And having that obsessiveness that we both have over the game, it’s somebody to learn from for sure.
“Work ethic beats talent any day of the week, period. And I like to think that I have a really hard work ethic and I put a lot of time in.”
Talent is key to earning a PGA TOUR card, but it’s the intangibles that separate good from great. How can you find that extra stroke that so often proves the difference, as it did Sunday for Rahm?
J.T. Poston played in Sunday’s final grouping alongside Rahm and Thompson, carding a closing 68 for a T6 finish, his fourth consecutive top-21 showing on TOUR. Poston has hit a stride in the past year, earning his second TOUR title at the John Deere Classic last summer and moving to the fringes of potential Presidents Cup captain’s selection.
Poston is an established TOUR pro with an eye on taking the next step into the game’s elite. A Sunday in the final group with Rahm proved instructive.
“You knew what kind of heater he was on and how good he was playing and the scores he’s been shooting,” Poston said. “You knew he was going to be hard to beat. Watching him today, he obviously played great, but my takeaway is that he’s human too. He didn’t go out there and shoot 64 again and just blow everybody away; he had to earn it.
“For somebody that’s watching from a distance, it almost gives you a little bit of confidence where you’re like, ‘OK, that’s the guy who’s obviously playing the best of anyone in the world right now, and he’s still making mistakes, he’s not perfect.’ It gives you confidence that you don’t have to be perfect, and you can go out and win too.”
Rahm is doing plenty of winning these days. He’ll keep striving to uncover clues in the quest to remain on the “elite” side of the razor-thin edge between elite and very good.
Just don’t expect him to adopt Watt’s chicken diet.