By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jon Rahm is a Masters champion, and he can say he saw this coming based on the message in a fortune cookie from a Chinese fast food chain nearly 10 years ago.
Rahm was starting his sophomore year at Arizona State when he cracked open the fortune: “Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.” He took to Twitter to share the message with his coach, Tim Mickelson, and wrote, “I am gonna win the masters!”
If only it were that simple, and nothing about this Masters was until the 28-year-old Spaniard lofted a wedge over the bunker to 3 feet for a final par that gave him a four-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, the older brother of his college coach.
From the time he began his second round on Friday, Rahm never had the lead until Koepka began to lose his swing and his putting touch. It took Rahm 42 holes before he got his name in front again, and then he seized control with more miscues from Koepka and the brawler mentality to do whatever is needed to win the fight.
It’s been that way as long as Rahm has been playing, and everyone knew it.
Phil Mickelson predicted greatness before Rahm turned pro in 2016, and said he felt Rahm was among the top 10 players in the world before the Spanish star had ever won his first tournament. Bill Haas lost to Rahm in the semifinals of Match Play in 2017 and said later, “He’s hungry. He wants more. You can just see it in him. He’s got that thing about him that’s going to make him a big-time winner out here.”
Rahm went back to No. 1 in the world with his Masters victory — adding to his U.S. Open title he won at Torrey Pines two years ago — though even with seven wins worldwide in the last year, it remains a close race with Scottie Scheffler.
What gets so much attention with Rahm is everyone could see this coming, with or without a fortune cookie. Koepka won his first PGA Tour title at the Phoenix Open in 2015, the year Rahm tied for fifth while in his junior year in college.
It took him four starts on the PGA Tour to secure his card. He has won every year since his first full year as a pro, and now has 20 wins around the world.
Not to be overlooked is a communications degree from Arizona State that he earned in four years after arriving on campus without being able to speak English.
“We put in a lot of effort to try to beat the best guys in the world. So maybe that level of intensity and that determination is what you see and that’s why I’m characterized as a fighter,” Rahm said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try my hardest on every shot. So maybe that’s where that comes from.”
Rahm was as entertaining at the green jacket presentation as he was on the golf course, mixing in one fun tale about how this Masters started for him.
He has become friends with Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, and Rahm was in a cart from the practice range to the putting green ahead of the first round when he saw that Ertz had sent him a text.
“I’m going to paraphrase. It said, ‘That first green is looking like a walk in the park’ — 10 minutes before I four-putted to to start the tournament,” Rahm said. “So, ‘Thank you, Zach. Don’t ever do that again.’”
It wasn’t just the four-putt double bogey from 40 feet (Sam Snead in 1952 is the only other player to start with a double bogey and win the Masters).
Rahm opened with a 65 to tie Koepka, except the Spaniard played in the morning. When he returned to Augusta National on Friday afternoon, storms were on the way. The temperature dropped, eventually to the mid-40s. It was raining. The wind made it feel more miserable. The conditions were so deplorable that Rahm, who hit 8-iron to a back pin on Thursday, couldn’t reach the green with a 4-iron.
It was just as bad for the six holes he played with Koepka on Saturday, and it was still frigid when they resumed the third round on Sunday morning. Rahm kept it close. That fight was as much a part of winning as his 3-under 69 on Sunday.
So where someone suggested that he might have been on the bad side of the draw, Rahm smiled as he leaned toward the microphone and said, “Did you say I was perhaps on the bad side of the draw? PERHAPS?’”
He overcame everything thrown at him Sunday — the deficit that grew to as many as four shots on the 30-hole marathon finish, the wrong side of the weather, even all the Spanish coincidences mentioned to him — and just battled. He brawled. That’s his style, and while not always artistic that’s why he’s become such a prolific winner.
He was surprised when someone pointed out he was the first European to win the Masters and the U.S. Open. And he was asked about the career Grand Slam.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said.
He is only halfway there, now needing a PGA Championship and a British Open. But he is good enough that it’s not preposterous, with or without a fortune cookie.
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