Rookie Rahm could prove Europe's Ryder Cup talisman

Paris (AFP) –


Jon Rahm wasn't even a tour professional two years ago, but the big-hitting Spaniard looks set to find himself Europe's highest-ranked player when they bid to regain the Ryder Cup in four months' time.

The 23-year-old's meteoric rise has come close to bringing him the world number one spot multiple times already this season, and now only the American trio of Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth lead him in the rankings.

Rahm will be one of the players most feared by American fans in Paris, after five professional titles, including two in the United States, in 16 months.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy is Europe's biggest star, but his struggles with injuries and on the greens mean he is still trying to find his best form.

Rahm has had no such difficulties, and challenged for a major for the first time in April when a blistering weekend charge at a Masters green jacket only came to an end with an approach shot into the water at the 15th hole on the final day.

But that go-for-broke attitude should serve him well in the cauldron of a Ryder Cup atmosphere -- the ill-fated mid-iron at Augusta was only inches away from setting up a possible eagle try.

The demanding nature of the course at Le Golf National looks sure to favour Rahm with his monster drives and slick putting stroke come September 28.

"For what I've talked to people, apparently it (the Ryder Cup) is unlike any other," Rahm told Golf Digest earlier this month.

"I'm going to be more nervous than I've ever been, I'm going to be more stressed than I've ever been and I'm going to be more overwhelmed than I've ever been."

- Spain's Ryder Cup tradition -

Europe has had a long tradition of Spaniards leading the way to Ryder Cup glory since the team was expanded to include the whole continent from just Britain and Ireland in 1979.

Seve Ballesteros was the trailblazer, and Sergio Garcia has followed in his footsteps, with the possibility of a Rahm-Garcia pairing in France sure to fill European hearts with optimism.

Despite his relative inexperience, Rahm has a better match-play pedigree than most, having staged a remarkable comeback against a red-hot Johnson in last year's WGC Matchplay final only to lose on the last green.

"When you're playing match play, one against one, it doesn't matter what they've done before, what they've done this year and what they haven't done, it really doesn't matter, anybody can win in match play," he added.

Rahm is not one to hide his emotions on the golf course and is capable of magical moments at the perfect time.

His maiden victory came at Torrey Pines last year courtesy of a sensational 60-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole, while his devastated reaction to seeing his Masters hopes go swimming at Augusta was reminiscent of the late, great Ballesteros after a similarly-damaging shot on the same hole back in 1986.

Unlike most Europeans, Rahm first made his name in the US, winning 11 college tournaments at Arizona State, where only five-time major champion Phil Mickelson won more.

The Spaniard could find himself up against his friend and mentor Mickelson in France, where he will be doing all he can to ensure that Europe don't lose the Cup on home soil for the first time since 1993.

"The Americans sure have a great team. It's an amazing team. World ranking-wise alone they're amazing," he admitted.

"The worst player is top 20. The Europeans is top 25... It truly will be a hard test for both teams to be able to win it."