One year and one week ago, Jon Rahm of Spain made his professional debut at the Quicken Loans National. He opened with a 64 at Congressional and tied for third, earning a spot in the British Open and putting him on the fast track to earning a PGA Tour card.
The Quicken Loans National is this week, and Rahm is in Paris for the French Open.
It raises the question of whether young players who receive sponsor exemptions fresh out of college owe it to the tournaments to return the favor by playing after they have established themselves. Rahm already is No. 11 in the world.
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He also has special circumstances, achieving so much so quickly that he has scheduling issues he might have not have expected. The 22-year-old Spaniard wants to play on the European Tour and play in the Ryder Cup, which next year is at Le Golf National, home of the French Open.
”I didn’t have the luxury to have long-term goals at that point,” Rahm said Tuesday as he looked back on his anniversary of turning pro. ”So I really had my mindset in the next six events I was able to play. I knew I had to play my best golf possible. They were really good events and I had to get a minimum amount of money to be able to get my tour card. I didn’t know my first event I was going to play that good.”
In his fourth event, he was runner-up by one shot at the RBC Canadian Open to lock up his card. Rahm also took exemptions to the Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic and Wyndham Championship, needing a victory to be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The schedule was different last year because of the Olympics, and Rahm can’t be expected to play them all this year.
The John Deere is the week before the British Open (Rahm will be in Europe). The Canadian Open is the week between the Open and the World Golf Championship at Firestone, with the PGA Championship right behind it. The Wyndham Championship is a week after the PGA and a week before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin.
”Once I hit January and I win at Torrey Pines, everything changed again,” he said. ”I got into all the WGCs and majors, so I had to reschedule everything around those tournaments. And luckily for me, winning that opened up the possibility of being able to join the European Tour and play here in Europe.”
Jordan Spieth was in a similar predicament, although most of his exemptions were earlier in the year.
Without a card on any tour in 2013, Spieth earned special temporary membership in his second PGA Tour event (Valspar Championship) and wrapped up a card three starts later. He became a full member when he won the John Deere Classic in July.
He took 13 sponsor exemptions in 2013. Spieth returned to nine of those tournaments, including Hilton Head, a week after he was runner-up at the Masters. The four tournaments he didn’t play the following year were Puerto Rico (he played a WGC that week at Doral), New Orleans, the Wells Fargo Championship and the Greenbrier.
Spieth played New Orleans this year. He still hasn’t returned to Wells Fargo, which is a scheduling issue because he has The Players Championship, his two home Texas events and the Memorial right after that.
SECOND CHANCE: Charley Hoffman first good chance to become exempt for the British Open was at Colonial. He started the week at No. 53 and needed to crack the top 50 to secure a spot at Royal Birkdale. He wound up missing by three shots when he closed with a 72.
He made good on his next chance thanks to the last two tournaments.
Hoffman played bogey-free on his final nine at Erin Hills to finish eighth at the U.S. Open, and then he closed with a 64 at the Travelers Championship to tie for third. That was just enough to move up to No. 20 in the FedEx Cup.
The leading five players (not already exempt) from the top 20 in the FedEx Cup after last week get into the British Open. Hoffman made it by 18 points over Canadian rookie Mackenzie Hughes. Also making it through the FedEx Cup category were Brian Harman and Brendan Steele.
Hughes still has a few more chances. At the Quicken Loans National and The Greenbrier Classic, four spots are offered to players who finish among the top 12.
Meanwhile, five European Tour members earned spots into the British Open by being among the top 20 in the Race to Dubai – Alexander Levy, Fabrizio Zanotti, Pablo Larrazabal, Dylan Frittelli and David Lipsky.
CADDIE BREAK: Paul Casey made a deal with John McLaren when he hired him as a caddie last year that family was first – for both of them. Casey can take a break whenever he wants. He’s an independent contractor. McLaren’s children have a summer holiday, and he asked off for last week off at The Travelers Championship.
But there was more to the agreement.
”The only rule was that if Johnny wanted a week off, he wanted to pick who worked for me,” Casey said.
McLaren signed up Mark Fulcher, the caddie for Justin Rose, to work for Casey in Malaysia last fall. And for the Travelers, McLaren picked Shannon Wallis.
Wallis played the role beautifully, and not just because Casey tied for fifth. McLaren is known as ”Johnny Long Socks” because he wears mid-calf socks, usually with a theme on them. Wallis wore them at TPC River Highlands.
”I love the fact that he’s channeled his inner `Johnny Long Socks’ this week and turned up with long socks to try to make me feel better,” Casey said.
DIVOTS: The U.S. Senior Open is going to Omaha Country Club in 2021 and Saucon Valley in 2022. … So Yeon Ryu became the first player to go over $1 million this season on the LPGA Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jordan Spieth went over $30 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. He turns 24 next month.