ERIN, Wis.—Playing in the U.S. Open, especially on an untested course such as Erin Hills, is so different from the average golf experience that it seems like learning a foreign language. Which means it could be no problem for Spain’s Jon Rahm, who entered Arizona State speaking limited English and left there fluent in rap (and golf).
“When people talked to me it was a long process for me to translate that sentence from English to Spanish, understand it, think what I wanted to say and translate it from Spanish to English. It was at least a 10- to 15-second process,” the 22-year-old said Monday, after his first time around Erin Hills, site of the 117th U.S. Open that begins Thursday. “A lot of times I responded ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when the question was nothing related to yes or no.
“I mean, I’ll never forget my first class, Macro-Economic Principles. The class had about 365 students, the teacher was speaking with a microphone. I could not understand a single word. The first month, yeah, it was a little uphill.”
But he stayed with it, listed communications as his major, “as ironic as it may sound,” and poured his heart and soul into a public speaking class. Then, “as weird and funny as it may sound,” he recalled, he shared a golf teammate’s interest in rap music. “Memorizing those lyrics helped out with enunciation and pronunciation,” he said. “I’m not kidding.”
Nor is it a joke to say he is a quick study on the golf course. He was low amateur at the U.S. Open last year, when he was thrilled just to make the cut. Then he turned pro and was dreaming about earning his PGA Tour card. Since then, he has won the Farmers Insurance Open, been runnerup in two other tournaments and finished among the top five in two more.
“So I think I’m maturing as a player, knowing more of my game and being able to make smarter choices,” he said at a news conference attended by his college coach-turned-agent Tim Mickelson (whose brother Phil is hoping for weather delays to allow him to return from his daughter’s high school graduation in time to play).
It would not be the craziest choice to pick Rahm among the contenders this week. Each of the past eight U.S. Opens (every one since Tiger Woods in 2008) has been won by someone who never had won a U.S. Open before. And each of the past six majors has been won by someone who never had won a major before.
So, just about anything is on the table. Unpredictability is here with a vengeance on a course that opened a mere 11 years ago. Two-time U.S. Open champion and Wisconsin resident Andy North said, “Will the winning score be 4 over? Will the winning score be about 20 under? No one has an idea.”
Tour pro Kevin Na registered the first idea after a practice round Sunday, issuing a Twitter video rant about the height and thickness of the fescue beyond the fairways and modest rough. Then again, it will take a really wild shot to reach the fescue. As North said, “The fairways are as wide as you’ve ever had at a U.S. Open.”
In any case, Rahm is entering with a ton of respect. “The U.S. Open is like an uphill marathon,” he said at one point, later adding that Erin Hills, “is like a links course on steroids” — displaying linguistic dexterity he could not have imagined five years ago.
He stopped short of demonstrating his rap technique at a podium during a major championship news conference, though. Revealing a veteran’s wisdom, the tour rookie said, “There will be a lot of censoring on the cameras if I have to say that.”