Jon Rahm is peaking right now, you may have heard.
The 28-year-old Spaniard has won five out of his last nine tournaments worldwide and has ascended once again to World No. 1. Everyone is trying to understand just how good Peak Rahm really is.
DataGolf, the analytics website, will tell you that Rahm’s best is now better than all but three players from the modern era. Only David Duval, Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods have shown a peak higher than Rahm’s in the last 25 years. Rahm himself admitted after his recent Genesis Invitational win that this is the best season of golf he’s put together.
Naturally, golf writers have to ask the question: if you’re at your best, can anyone else beat you? Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press lobbed that to Rahm Tuesday morning at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Rahm’s answer was short, but expected:
“No,” he said immediately, barely finishing his swig from a coffee cup.
Understood! It’s a hypothetical that gets asked of nearly every player who reaches the top spot in the world ranking. Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy have both been asked that. Often the responses come with more of an explanation and deference. Rahm didn’t need any deference, in part because everyone believes him. He’s the top dog. But the follow-up question elicited an equally telling response from Rahm.
“How many players, would you guess, feel the same way you do?” Ferguson asked.
“I mean, I would hope a lot of them. I have no idea. The thing is, you don’t need to be firing on all cylinders to win.”
Now is where Rahm does Rahm best. He doesn’t love hypotheticals. He doesn’t care too much to dream about how an Everyone Peaking Now kind of tournament would look. He can’t be bothered to wonder how, say, Collin Morikawa’s peak stands up to his. His thoughts, when it comes to playing golf at an extremely high level, are not about firing on on cylinders on repeat in the robotic way us golfing mortals like to think. It’s a mindset born out of a conversation with Tiger Woods.
“I actually had a conversation similar to this with Tiger,” Rahm continued. “I asked him, ‘Out of the 82 wins on the PGA Tour, how many times did you think you played your best, all four days?’ And he said, ‘Three, at most.’”
It was the softest mic drop. Rahm shrugged his shoulders and said, “Right? A lot of those Sundays he played his best, but the whole week, very few.”
The greatest golfer who ever lived, who won 82 times on the PGA Tour, 15 of them major championships, with six U.S. Amateur or Junior Amateur titles — only three times has Woods felt he was on for all four days of a tournament. Those weeks, per Rahm, were obviously the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods won by 15 strokes, and the 2000 Open Championship a month later, at St. Andrews, where Woods won by eight. The third? “I think you can pick any other 2000 win,” Rahm said with a laugh. Fair enough.
It’s a healthy reminder for any of us who like to dabble in the hypotheticals. (And to be fair, they’re fun.) Sometimes the singular pursuit of winning tournaments doesn’t allow for any other mindset. “A lot of us are such perfectionists that I think we play close to that A-plus game a lot, but we don’t give ourselves that grade for all four days,” Rahm said, concluding the matter.
The irony of course is that Rahm can only think of one tournament where his game was at an absolute peak. It wasn’t this year, or even the tail end of 2022. It was back in the middle of 2021, in Dublin, Ohio. Rahm had built a six-shot lead in the Memorial tournament and was alerted as he walked off the green that he had tested positive for Covid-19. His tournament was over, his huge lead vacated with the letters ‘WD’ as if those three rounds of Rahm “firing on all cylinders” never even happened. Patrick Cantlay ended up winning, and Rahm ended up serving a period in isolation while he kicked Covid. We’ll never know what that fourth round would have looked like but we at least know where Rahm stands on the potential to have “all cylinders firing.”
“There’s weeks where you think, ‘Oh, this part of my game is great, this other part was amazing.’ But for every part of your game to be 100 percent all four days, yeah, that’s nearly impossible to happen.”