ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Spain’s Jon Rahm has rocketed up the rankings to stand 10th in the world one year after turning professional and having seen his friend and compatriot Sergio Garcia win a major he is inspired to follow suit.
Garcia ended nearly two decades of frustration with his playoff victory over England’s Justin Rose at the Masters in April.
“It was something incredible,” Rahm said about the long-awaited victory by Garcia, who as a 19-year-old challenged Tiger Woods over the closing holes before finishing runner-up at the 1999 PGA Championship. “He’s been so close so many times.”
Rahm said the setting and the timing were perfect for role model Garcia.
“With all the places, and all the possible days he could have won, being Seve’s (the late Ballesteros’ 60th) birthday at Augusta, I don’t think you would ever get much more special than that for him,” he told reporters on Monday after practising ahead of Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Open.
“To be able to see him succeed the way he did, I thought it was absolutely incredible. And finish the way he did. It was absolutely amazing.”
Rahm said Garcia’s thrilling victory touched him personally.
“He’s always been one of my idols, one of the people I looked up to,” he said.
“And as a Spaniard it was something amazing. I can’t tell you how happy Spain was. It was a huge moment.”
Rahm, 22, said Garcia’s triumph fueled his own quest for a first major title.
A win by Rahm at Erin Hills would extend a run of six straight first-time major winners following Garcia, Jimmy Walker (2016 PGA), Henrik Stenson (2016 British Open), Dustin Johnson (2016 U.S. Open), Danny Willett (2016 Masters) and Jason Day (2015 PGA).
“It just motivates me,” said the stocky, powerful Spaniard, who ranks as a long driver despite taking one of the shortest backswings on the tour.
“We’ve played together a bunch this year,” Rahm said. “I see what he can do. And I know what I’m capable of. It makes me believe that I do think I’ll be able to win a major some day. And it makes me want to work harder.
“A close friend of mine winning a tournament motivates me. A Spaniard winning a major is always going to motivate me.”
Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Ken Ferris