Rahm’s rise tied to improved putting

April 29, 2020
Justin Ray

Before the COVID-19 hiatus, Jon Rahm was arguably the hottest player in the world.

In 18 worldwide starts from the 2019 U.S. Open until the opening round of the 2020 Players Championship, Rahm had won three times, finished in the top-five eleven times and had a scoring average just under 68.5.

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Had he passed Rory McIlroy for world number one that week in Florida – which was a realistic possibility – he would have done so less than four years after turning pro. Since the Ranking began in 1986, only Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth have reached the top spot that quickly.

Rahm’s rapid ascent has been faster than most of his peers at the top of the game. In 90 official tournaments around the world as a pro, Rahm has won nine times. That is more than twice as many wins as McIlroy, Justin Thomas or Dustin Johnson accumulated through their first 90 starts. Maybe more impressive is his consistency: a staggering 52.2 percent of the time, he has finished in the top-ten. Through 90 starts, DJ did that just 22.2 percent of the time; Rory 40 percent.

The start to Rahm’s pro career is favorable to even that of a past Spanish phenom, Sergio Garcia. Through 90 tournaments, Rahm has more wins, more top-three finishes and more top-ten finishes than Garcia did at that point. Rahm is currently number two in the world; Garcia got as high as fourth in the World Ranking through his first 90 tournaments.

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What’s obvious when watching Rahm play is his superior ability to drive the golf ball. Over the last four PGA Tour seasons, Rahm has averaged the third-most strokes gained per round off the tee (0.82 strokes per round). Only Rory (0.96) and Johnson (0.87) have a better average among players with 100 or more measured rounds in that span.

But the uptick in his performance over the last two years has come from a profound improvement with the putter. Two seasons ago, Rahm ranked 20th on the PGA Tour in scoring average despite being 147th in strokes gained putting. Rahm climbed to 36th in putting last season, and when play stopped in March, he was fourth on the Tour in that stat for the ’19-20 campaign.

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On putts from five to fifteen feet, Rahm was making 50.8% in ’19-20. That was a jump of more than ten percent (40.2) over just a season ago.

Rahm was outside the top-150 on the PGA Tour in three-putt avoidance just two years ago. Now he’s ranked second.

Arguably the most talented player in the men’s game without a major championship, it shouldn’t be too long before Rahm claims his first.

THE IRON PLAY OF COLLIN MORIKAWA

He’s currently better known in golf circles for his active made cuts streak on the PGA Tour, but maybe Collin Morikawa should be getting a bit more credit for a different statistic.

When Tommy Fleetwood had his streak snapped with an MC at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it meant Collin was the new mantle-holder on Tour for the longest active streak of cuts made, at 21. In 22 career PGA Tour starts, the only time the Cal product hasn’t made it to the weekend was in his debut, when he played the 2016 Safeway Open as an amateur.

But there’s something maybe even more impressive about Morikawa’s game: his iron play.

He’s ranked fourth on the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained approach per round. But taking it back a little further, the numbers are even more remarkable.

Over the last two PGA Tour seasons, there are more than 200 players with 30 or more rounds measured by ShotLink. Of that group, the player with the most strokes gained approach per round is Morikawa, averaging 1.19. Henrik Stenson is second, at 1.15. Justin Thomas is third (0.97).

It’s a tremendous start to a career that fans will undoubtedly be following for years to come.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

Since 1970, there have been 15 major championships won by players age 24 or younger. One-third of them (five) were by Tiger Woods.