Sunday 25 August 2019

Links man Rahm will do whatever it takes to win on Irish soil once again

Spain's Jon Rahm. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Spain's Jon Rahm. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Dermot Gilleece

Ireland's six-strong crew of Open hopefuls set sail on their quest for the ultimate prize today.

But there are 150 rivals ready to spoil their hunt for precious treasure and if there's one man with the form, the guts and the weapons to snatch that shiny Claret Jug, it's the Spaniard with the pirate looks and the firepower of a man o' war, Jon Rahm.

The big Basque looked every inch the heartless buccaneer at Lahinch when he surged through on a tidal wave of birdies and eagles to snatch his second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open title in three years.

Now he's looking for a third trophy on Irish links terrain and "built for links golf" thanks to his driving prowess, as Pádraig Harrington suggested this week, he's ready to weather any storm.

As heavy rain and a steady breeze pummelled the media tent so hard he struggled to hear the questions, Rahm insisted he's prepared to get down and dirty in capricious weather and do whatever it takes to win.

"You've got to get the ball in the hole any way possible," the world No 8 said.

"It doesn't need to look pretty. You have to battle it."

Harrington points to the world's top three - Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy - as the heavy hitters capable of bringing the Dunluce Links to heel. But of Rahm, he said: "He's built for links golf. I think a 15mph wind would bring John more into it. He's a good solid driver of the ball. He looks like a man designed to play links golf. Jon must be a strong contender.'

Harrington's faith was music to the big man's ears and he's ready to live up to the hype and celebrate in Portstewart again having opted to stay this week in the town where he won his first Irish Open in 2017.

"If I ever have doubt, which I shouldn't, I can always remind myself that I've been able to win twice here," he argued.

"That's the reason why I can get it done. I have a lot of confidence knowing that I'm more than capable of winning an Open, of winning on a links golf course."

To pull it off, he knows he will need the fight of Seve Ballestros and the Dubliner's never-say-die attitude,

"It's what makes him great," Rahm said of Ireland's two-time Open champion. "That second round at Birkdale (in 2008) was unbelievable, right?

"It was one of the worst weather conditions you could have imagined, he shot 3-, 4-under, beating everybody in his bracket on that day."

Those Irish Open wins at Portstewart and Lahinch may stand Rahm in good stead this week when it comes to dealing with the inevitable bad breaks that come with links golf. But he knows that when it comes to conquering Royal Portrush, and joining Ballesteros amongst the immortals, the driver must behave.

"It's hard to win an Open Championship without putting the ball on the fairway," Rahm said, pointing to holes like the fourth, where out of bounds lurks just a few yards right, as one of the deadly reefs to be avoided.

"There are very few who have been able to do it. Seve being the master."

If he can find a way, he may well be able to use the crowd to his advantage. While not yet as beloved as the swashbuckling Seve, he's rapidly becoming one of our own.

"The Irish crowd is treating me very, very specially," he said. "I've had great support. It's the closest I'll ever feel to playing at home, without being at home, really. That's what I think makes it so special."

He knows he will never play like Seve, but he's prepared to win his own way. Any way.

"I don't care how it looks, if it looks pretty or not," he said. "As long as I win the event.

"It would be really incredible to do something that great players after him haven't been able to do at The Open.

"(Jose Maria) Olazábal came close quite a few times. Sergio (Garcia) has come close quite a few times. It would be an honour to be the next Spanish player to win an Open. I would very much love to."

Irish Independent

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