AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – History or tradition – call it what you want – suggests that first-timers don’t win The Masters.
It happened the first two years The Masters was played and, beyond that, only Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 has won in his first official spin around Augusta National.
Jon Rahm may add his name to the list this week.
Beyond the obvious evidence to support the 22-year-old as a legitimate contender – he won the Farmers Insurance Open and has finished third and second in two World Golf Championship events since then – there is another potential factor at work.
This Sunday would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday. How about the next great Spanish player winning as a Masters rookie on Seve’s birthday?
“If I didn’t think I could win it, I wouldn’t be here,” Rahm said.
Players often say that. Rahm says it with conviction. Here’s why: “Torrey Pines is not one of the places rookies usually win for the first time and I was able to do it,” he said. “Obviously this is different. It’s a major and my first time in Augusta. It’s very, very impressive.
“I’m going to tee it up believing that I can win, competing to win. I might do it; I might not but that’s how I do it. That’s what I did at Torrey Pines and that’s what I did in my first time as a pro at Congressional (where he finished T3 at last June’s Quicken Loans National), and that’s how I play. When I tee it up, it’s just because I want to win and I believe that I can win.”
When Rahm visited Augusta National before The Masters, he called on one of the club’s most experienced caddies to guide him around the course, particularly on the greens.
He’s picked Phil Mickelson’s brain about the place and intended to glean what he could from fellow Spaniard José María Olazábal, who won twice here.
Rahm already has shown himself to be an extraordinarily well-rounded player, blending modern, youthful power with an instinctive feel for the game. He’s not a golf robot. He plays from the heart.
Which brings it back to Ballesteros.
“Seve is my ultimate reference, idol,” Rahm said. “For many it’s probably many other people in the world, right. I try to emulate a lot of things he did. You know, the name Seve Ballesteros is really important for me.
“If I have a chance on Sunday, I’ll keep in mind that I know he’ll be out there, much like at (the 2012 Ryder Cup at) Medinah hopefully helping me out to get the green jacket. I know he’ll be out for the entire week but hopefully on Sunday he can make a special present.”