Jon Rahm has won the 2017 Rookie of the Year Award on the European Tour after a remarkable breakthrough season, which included a record-breaking victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July.
The current world No 5 – who lies fourth in the Race to Dubai – received the award ahead of this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where the Spaniard will be looking for a strong finish to an already impressive campaign.
Rahm sealed the accolade on Sunday night in South Africa, after none of his closest competitors – South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, Englishman Jordan Smith, Hideto Tanihara of Japan and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox – could finish strongly enough in the Nedbank Golf Challenge to give themselves a chance of overhauling the Spaniard in The Race to Dubai in the final week of the season.
It has been a meteoric rise to the top of the game for the 23-year-old, who turned professional in June 2016, following a glittering amateur career where he represented Arizona State University in the United States, winning 11 titles and reaching World Amateur No 1 along the way.
His transition to the paid ranks was a seamless one, and he earned his maiden professional title at the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open in January, holing a 60-foot eagle putt on the final hole to clinch the title.
Rahm then joined the European Tour and almost immediately emulated three of his Spanish golfing heroes – Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia – with a stunning win in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, storming to a breathtaking six-stroke victory at Portstewart Golf Club with his 24-under-par total of 264 the lowest in the tournament’s illustrious history.
Rahm becomes the first Spaniard to win the Rookie of the Year Award since Pablo Larrazábal in 2008, and the fifth in total, with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (2005), Garcia (1999) and Olazábal (1986) also having claimed the honour.
Rahm said: ‘It’s a very, very satisfying feeling to win this award. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would be sitting here – fourth in the Race to Dubai, playing the way I’ve done in the Rolex Series, becoming Rookie of the Year – when I wasn’t even a member at the beginning of the year – it’s a really special feeling.
‘I haven’t checked all the names of the people that won this, but I did see Sam Torrance, and I’m guessing there are a lot of other great names too. It’s just a huge honour to be sitting here in this position at this time of the year. I’m really happy and I’m really blessed that I have this opportunity, and that I am able to accomplish this award. It’s something I’m really proud of.’
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: ‘I can think of no worthier recipient of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award than Jon Rahm, whose rise to the top of the game in such a short space of time has undoubtedly been one of the great stories of the season.
‘The swashbuckling manner in which he compiled his final round 65 to win at Portstewart had many people likening him to the great Seve Ballesteros, and indeed it was the precise sentiment expressed on the front page of Marca, the Spanish daily sports newspaper on the Monday morning, whose translated headline read: “That was how Seve won.”
‘He joins an illustrious Roll of Honour in terms of winners of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year since 1960, including many players who went on to become Major champions. It will surprise no-one in our sport if that is the next list that Jon Rahm joins in the near future.’
As for the tournament, Rahm is hoping to sign off the year in style on his first appearance in Dubai.
‘It’s a golf course I’ve looked at on TV many, many times,’ he said. ‘With the lines of this golf course, I never understood how they shot so low every single time.
‘It’s a great golf course. It really suits me, especially off the tee, because I can freewheel it a little bit. I can get to the tee and hit it as hard as I can. Those extra yards are always an advantage, but [even more]on a course like this where position to the green is very important. It’s a huge advantage, and that’s probably why ball-strikers like Rory and Stenson have had huge success here. Hopefully I can end the year the same way I started it.’