The Open 2021: Spanish favourite Jon Rahm inspired by Seve Ballesteros

The 26-year-old golf wizard is another champion from a small part of northern Spain

There is a 100-mile corridor which snakes along the coastline of northern Spain that connects Pedrena, the birthplace of Seve Ballesteros, and San Sebastian from where Jose Maria Olazabal hails.

At its midpoint is the town of Barrika, where Jon Rahm was born, the latest Spanish golfing wizard from a region which can surely lay claim to be one of the most fertile in the world for producing champion players.

There is obviously something in the Basque country air that often blows with force off the Bay of Biscay. It is certainly an ideal breeding ground for reconnoitring the vagaries of links golf.

According to the golfing cognoscenti, Rahm, the favourite for The Open at Royal St George’s on the east Kent coast of England which starts on Thursday, has it within his powers to eclipse the feats of both of his illustrious compatriots. In a way it would be bittersweet for Rahm if he were to do so.

Rahm tees off fresh from his heroics at Torrey Pines where he became the first Spaniard to win the US Open. It was an achievement beyond Ballesteros who was a hero for the 26-year-old Rahm and who remains his inspiration.

Rahm dedicated his victory to the legendary Seve who almost single-handedly through his charisma and pure genius propelled European golf into the stratosphere. He died 10 years ago from a brain tumour. “This was definitely for Seve,” Rahm said after the tournament. “We talk about the Masters which he won twice, but I know he wanted to win this (the US Open) most of all.”

Ballesteros was the reason Rahm’s father Edorta took up golf having watched the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997. Seve was the captain of the European team. Years later Rahm’s father was to encourage his football loving son to do so.

Rahm junior was a promising goalkeeper and had set his heart on joining Athletic Bilbao. But aged 14 he decided to concentrate on golf. The following year he won the Spanish Boys Junior Championship and his course was set.

Before then Rahm did meet Ballesteros although he nearly messed up the opportunity. As a 12-year-old he was at a function where Ballesteros and Olazabal were guests of honour. “I knew who Olazabal was,” Rahm explained. “I had no idea who Seve was and I shook Olazabal’s hand and I almost missed Seve.

"And my Dad almost had a heart attack because I had the chance to shake Seve’s hand and I almost didn’t. I have that memory. I never got to meet him again, never got to speak to him again. But I have since become friends with Seve’s son Javier.”

Rahm’s best finish to date in four Open starts is 11th in 2019, but he has twice won the Irish Open on links courses and would love to join the likes of Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods in making history.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 20: Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates with the trophy after winning the final round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 20, 2021 in San Diego, California.   Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/AFP
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"It would be pretty incredible to win both Opens in one year. It would be amazing," Rahm said. "I did have a sense of relief after winning the first major. I felt like for the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major just because I was playing good golf, as if it was easy to win a major championship.

"But there's still the next one to win, so I still come with the same level of excitement obviously and willingness to win," said Rahm, who this week revealed that he was born with a club foot which required surgery as a boy to correct and explains his short backswing.

How does he feel about being compared with Seve? “I am never going to be him. He was unique, so special, and what he did for golf in Spain was unbelievable.

“He is my idol and it is beautiful in a way to be compared but I am Jon Rahm. Seve influenced thousands. I would be extremely happy to influence one kid to take up golf.”

If he did no doubt it would be a start struck boy from northern Spain.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 10:30 AM
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