‘I can get a lot better:’ How Jon Rahm is channeling a ‘Mamba Mentality’ amid his dominant run

Jon Rahm of Spain reacts on the 16th green during the final round of The American Express at PGA West Pete Dye Stadium Course on January 22, 2023 in La Quinta, California.

Jon Rahm won for the fourth time in his last six starts at The American Express.

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After polishing off his fourth win in his last six worldwide starts at the American Express, Jon Rahm was asked what other athletes he respects for how they handle success.

It’s a fair question to ask the man who is the hottest golfer on the planet. No one has beaten Rahm in 2023. He’s a combined 54 under in two events, both wins and, going back further, he’s only finished outside the top 10 once since August.

Rahm said it was a “very long list,” but the one he named first, stuck out: the late Los Angeles Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant.

“I spent a lot of time 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 keyword 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 every 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.”

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Bryant wasn’t the only person he brought up. He mentioned his personal friends 23-time Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps and Arizona Cardinals players J.J. Watt and Zach Ertz, but it shouldn’t be surprising Bryant was the first one he named.

It’s also interesting Rahm got asked that question this week.

He showed up at the American Express seemingly a man on a mission: He wasn’t going to be beaten by anyone.

He’d been vocal, for months, about how he was getting the short end of the stick with the recent changes to the Official World Golf Ranking. Despite his remarkable run in his last 10 events, he’s moved only from No. 6 to No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm hasn’t exactly been quiet about his opinion on the ranking, until this week.

He didn’t mention it once in his pre-tournament press conference or any other time during the week. He even passed up a chance to comment on it when a reporter referenced it, saying, “Despite what some computers might say.”

That question was about whether or not Rahm could maintain his run of dominance.

This time Rahm channeled Bryant’s Mamba Mentality, proving his own obsession with perfecting his craft.

“In my mind, I feel like I can get a lot better,” Rahm said. “I feel like that’s the mentality I should have. Again, I work very hard to do what I do. I could find mistakes in every single round I’ve played. Very few times I would say I’ve played a flawless round.”

Despite his performance, it’s not actually that hard to pick out issues Rahm had this week. He stalled midway through his third round when he quickly jumped out in the lead. His putts stopped falling after the cup was seemingly as big as a basketball when he was 24 under through 48 holes.

The putts had trouble falling Sunday too even when Rahm said he thought they were going in.

Jon Rahm of Spain reacts on the 18th hole during the final round of The American Express at PGA West Pete Dye Stadium Course on January 22, 2023 in La Quinta, California.
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“On 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 17 and 18, all of those putts were good,” he said. “All of them looked like they were dead center with two feet to go and just at the end they just missed.”

His ball striking, on the other hand, was otherwordly this week. Rahm finished 6th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green for the tournament, but that’s misleading because the first two courses he played didn’t have Strokes Gained data. He missed just 12 greens all week.

“If I can keep that going and the ball striking at the level that I know I can, I know I can get better,” he said. “Again, it’s my job to try to do the best I can and so far I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Like Bryant, Rahm isn’t going to stop trying to get better, and while he wouldn’t say it, he’s got a unique opportunity this week to ride momentum toward the top spot in the world rankings.

Next week’s event at the Farmers Insurance Open starts early, on Wednesday and Rahm has history at Torrey Pines. He notched his first win there in 2017 and his biggest win at the U.S. Open in 2021.

“If I can keep hitting it off the tee and my iron game keeps staying at this level I’m going to have a really good chance at that golf course,” Rahm said. “So I can’t help to smile because, again, it’s a very, very emotional week every time I go. In a very good way. It’s a very special place in my heart.”

He was similarly bullish on Thursday when asked about his chances. He was still two shots back at the time.

We all saw how that turned out.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.