Rozner: As he fights for Masters, Rahm fights perception
If Jon Rahm had a dollar for every time he's been told how he should react to a bad shot, he'd have a lot of dollars.
Strange, this game of golf, the way advice is doled out three for a quarter and dispensed through a Slurpee machine, and Rahm is lectured more than just about anyone about his disposition on the course.
It remains a canard of the highest regard.
Yeah, save your speech about it being a gentleman's game and your desire to package everyone in the same box.
These are athletes. Think they enjoy butchering a hole? Some of them get mad, and they usually feel better after getting mad. As long as you don't carry it to the next shot, or hurt someone else in the process, there's nothing wrong with expressing frustration.
Sorry if that offends your delicate golf sensibilities.
We're not talking about destroying greens, like Sergio Garcia. Or obliterating bunkers, like Garcia. Or getting yourself kicked out of a tournament, like Garcia. Or throwing a fit and giving up a hole in match play, like Garcia.
That behavior affects others and that's wrong, but Rahm gets mad at himself and endures nearly as much criticism as Garcia.
Those who lecture him do not understand that some athletes need the release. They can't all walk around like Matt Kuchar or Kyle Hendricks. Some are more like Tiger Woods and Jon Lester.
We are what we are, right?
But Rahm grew so tired of the criticism that he has tried to rein it in on the golf course, which benefits only those who believe this proper, not Rahm himself. Woods has always showed emotion, and it has worked out rather well for him.
Again, the key is letting go of the last shot, however best you can do that, minus firing your lob wedge into a pond.
Rahm finished fourth at the Masters in 2018, 4 shots back of winner Patrick Reed. After opening with a 75, giving up 6 shots to Reed on Thursday, Rahm came back with a 68 to make the cut, and went 65-69 on the weekend.
He started Sunday 6 shots back and was 12-under thinking eagle on 15 with a chance to tie for the lead when a mistake led to bogey and the end of his chances. He finished with 3 straight pars but was close to making a game of it.
Rahm figures to be in the mix again this week and will be under a microscope after what occurred at The Players Championship last month, when he held the 54-hole lead and made a crucial mistake on Sunday.
On the par-5 11th, Rahm was 220 from the hole in a fairway bunker and needed a miracle hook around the trees and over water to reach the green. Caddie Adam Hayes, one of the very best in the business, tried to talk him off the shot and lay up, but Rahm overruled Hayes and fired one into the drink.
Rahm cursed and lightly kicked the grass, all of which was caught on camera. Oh, the horror of such a display.
Gimme a break.
The media jumped down his throat, deciding his anger had cost him the tournament, which of course was wrong. It was a bad golf decision, not an F-bomb, that cost him at TPC.
"Old Jon would have lost it," Rahm said. "Maybe I would have been more productive because getting mad has helped out before."
Listen to the inner conflict. Rahm believes getting mad helps him move on quickly, instead of bottling it up inside, but the critics have decided they know what's best for him.
"I'm a very passionate person in everything I do, for the good or the bad," Rahm said Tuesday morning when he was asked about it in his Masters news conference. "It's very enjoyable when I win, and I really don't like it when I lose. A second of losing is way worse than (the good of) a thousand days of winning."
If a hockey or football player said that, fans would profess deep love for such a competitor.
"Nobody likes missing shots, but I guess it's easier to see it on me than other people," Rahm said Tuesday, before referencing Woods and Seve Ballesteros. "There's always been great players who showed their emotions and used it to their advantage.
"I'm not a robot. I'm slowly trying to control myself a little bit better. But there's something about people like me, those emotions help."
Two years ago when Rahm was at Conway Farms for the BMW, I asked him about his need to release that fury after a terrible shot.
"It's part of who we are. Some people react to bad shots differently," Rahm explained. "I'm emotional. I like to feel my emotions.
"I understand it always needs to be under control. Even when I'm under control, I do it more than others. So what I need to do is stay under control and make sure it helps me more than it hurts me."
That was working for Rahm as he climbed as high as No. 2 in the world only a few months into his second professional season, in early 2018.
At 24 years old, the Spaniard is still top 10, refining his game and defining who he is on and off the course, all while doing it on a very public stage.
He's close to putting it all together and this could be his year for a major.
If only the experts would just let Rahm be Rahm.