SCOTTSDALE, AZ — It's 4:15 p.m. on a picturesque Friday at TPC Scottsdale.
Arizona State alum Jon Rahm has emerged from the tunnel leading to the course's 16th hole, a coliseum-type setting with 20,000 drunken fans who have been waiting for the hometown hero to arrive.
Wearing a customized Pat Tillman jersey, the former Sun Devil waves his arms to pump up the crowd. They respond with a full-throated version of the Seven Nation Army chant.
This is all perfectly normal at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Jon Rahm has arrived at the 16th. pic.twitter.com/nKuPWfzKXY— Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) February 3, 2017
It’s also starting to become the new normal for Rahm.
The 22-year-old is quickly becoming a household name and has already earned his PGA Tour card for the 2017 season, this coming in just the eight months since graduating from Arizona State.
“I was very lucky to get a taste of what it (professional golf) looked like early on in my career,” said Rahm on Tuesday. “The first week out there I learned a lot about myself, and I learned more in Canada. I think I was tied for the lead after nine holes (on the final day), and I had a putt to tie for the lead on the 18th.”
Rahm’s upward trajectory continued after that second place finish in the Canadian Open, placing in the top-15 in three of his next four events. He then broke through for his first victory on tour last week, making an eagle on No. 18 at Torrey Pines to capture the Farmers Insurance Open.
The win not only meant an increase in popularity and FedExCup points, but also secured him full tour membership for 2017. That means Rahm can play in all four major championships, The Players, and whatever other events he pleases.
“It gives me a lot of stability,” Rahm said when asked about receiving his tour card. “The main thing is that I can actually make up a schedule. Now we can plan the breaks, we can plan what I want to work on harder, and we can plan what tournaments to play in.”
Even before receiving the full membership status, Rahm was locked in well in advance to participate in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. The tournament had been kind to him in his only previous appearance, when he shocked everyone by finishing in fifth place in his first PGA event inside the United States.
“I was so naive when I came here as an amateur,” said Rahm on Thursday. ”I had no idea what to do and I was scared of being in everybody's way. Today, I was paired with Jordan (Spieth) and Rickie (Fowler) in the featured group. That was definitely quite a change.”
Fowler met with the media after that opening round and likened the Arizona State alum to his other playing partner that day.
“Obviously, Jordan was someone who kind of showed the younger guys that you could come out and get the job done,” he said. “Jon's doing a great job of that. It's not easy to just come out and play well, so it is good to see him come out with confidence and continue to build on that.”
Rahm didn’t shatter any records or expectations on Thursday or Friday this week, but he did manage to keep himself in contention heading into moving day for round three.
After making the turn at even par in that third round, the Spaniard birdied six of his next eight holes to shoot up the leaderboard. A Saturday score of 65 brought his total for the tournament to -9.
And while he ultimately wasn’t able to capture some of that final round magic he saw a week prior in San Diego, Rahm finished the Phoenix Open with a score of 10 under par. That marked just the second time since turning pro that he has gone back-to-back tournaments with posting a round in red double digits.
“I don’t really think about it,” said Rahm when asked about trying to shoot a low number and improve with every outing. “I just want more and more.”
With an aggressive mindset and plenty of game to lean on, there’s no question that Rahm possesses the tools to become the next big thing on the PGA Tour. He is making progress with every start, and his recent victory has opened many doors that younger professionals aren’t often afforded.
He may not have won this week, but the former Sun Devil was on the forefront of everyone’s radar in a tournament where the sideshows and inebriated faithful often dominate the conversation.
Golf fans might want to start expecting that from him on a weekly basis.