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By: Brian Keogh, Global Golf Post
Staying the course when the mental test is the toughest is the sign of a champion, and Jon Rahm was thrilled to produce a near-perfect final-round 65 to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by six strokes.
His showing at Portstewart Golf Club was a far cry from his experience at the US Open last month. Rahm spent much of his pre-tournament news conference here apologizing for his misbehavior at Erin Hills, where he missed the cut by a significant margin and stood out for bad language and club throwing.
The 22-year-old Spaniard already had apologized profusely to playing partners Hideki Matsuyama and Ricky Fowler but it was a laudable public display of contrition.
He was followed into the interview room by England’s Justin Rose and when asked about the mental game, Rose was clear.
“All of the talent in the world is great and all of these young guys have it, but the difference in terms of winning the biggest events is the mental side,” Rose Said.
Rahm worked with psychologist Oscar del Río after he smashed a tee marker in anger during the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa Puerta de Hierro in Madrid and was immediately disqualified.
His “punishment” from the Spanish Golf Federation was to work at tournaments adapted for the physically disabled.
“The objective was for him to live a reality totally distinct from his own and to learn to put the importance of winning and losing into perspective,” del Río said. “It was good for him to learn about another kind of golf.”
He now works with mental coach Jose del Carmen and he’s well aware that conquering the mental game is key if he’s to win majors.
“All the players are great players but the strongest player mentally, the calmest the most stable player, that’s the guy who is going to win,” Rahm said after his second round at Portstewart. “That’s what Tiger (Woods) and (Jack) Nicklaus did well. Under pressure, they were the calmest players of all.”
Joining Seve Ballasteros, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia as the fourth Spaniard to win the Irish title gave him immense satisfaction.
But it was the mental strength Rahm showed in the final round, especially after being unsettled by a potential rules infraction on the sixth green – where it was deemed he be assessed no penalty after appearing to have improperly replaced his marked ball – that gave him the most satisfaction.
“I was so proud of how I stayed in the moment step by step, from the first shot pretty much towards till the end,” he said. “Maybe towards the end when I had a seven-shot lead with three to play, I let myself go a little bit. Probably that’s why I finished the way I finished (bogey-birdie-bogey). But that’s the most proud I am.”
Revealing he had spoken to mental coach del Carmen before teeing off, rehearsing some mental exercises that felt could help him win his first European Tour title, he added: “I was in the moment so much I didn’t think about scores at all.
“I mean, when I made the putt on 10 and I got to 12 tee, I looked at the scoreboard and I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I’m 6 under for the round, I didn’t even realize.’ I mean, I had no idea how far ahead I was.
“I was just so focussed on what I had to do, and that’s why I played such quality golf besides a couple mistakes on the first few holes, which is going to happen.
“But that’s probably what I’m most proud of, how I stayed in the moment and kept my composure in this final round.”
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post