I was finally able to get out on the course at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in time to join Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Spanish phenom, Jon Rohm on the par 5 3rd hole, their 12th. I was glad I had an Inside-The-Ropes badge; the gallery was huge. I caught them coming off the tee — well actually, they were well off of the tee standing in the middle of the fairway idly swinging clubs waiting to go for the green in two — it was the gallery that was still funneling through a bottleneck at the tee.
Once I joined the involuntary laggards, I was able to swing up to just inside the rope line and get to the players just as they were hitting their shots. It wasn’t a big surprise that up ahead, the green was surrounded by a huge gallery.
Rickie hit his tee shot in the fairway bunker, hit it into the front wash and then played a wonderful shot to 3½ feet and made that for birdie. I can’t begin to tell you how stylish and authoritative the bunker shot out of the wash was. No surprise that he ended up at 4-under on the day.
Spieth spent most of the day at par, making a 48-footer on his 2nd hole to get up over his skis. So he was at par the whole time I followed him until he made a 32-footer on his 215-yard 16th to get to and finish at 1-under.
Rahm was very interesting. He had such a towering win at Torrey Pines last week I probably expected more from him than 1-under. He spent most of his back nine at 2-under before giving up a bogey on the 17th. I was surprised at how stocky he looks — in a good way — in the mold of an NFL tight end. And he is a great young man.
I was mightily impressed by these snippets from his winner’s transcript. He talks about the culture shock he went through arriving at ASU from Spain and how rap music played a big part in his learning English.
Q. Jon, when you look at life accomplishments, what’s bigger to you, that trophy next to you or just getting through your first semester at Arizona State with the challenges you had there?
They’re pretty equal, they’re pretty equal. My first semester at Arizona State, it wasn’t an easy one. Basically, the language barrier was hard. It was hard for me to understand what they were telling me, it was hard for me to express what I was saying. To be honest, when I showed up to my first class, there was 375 people and I came from a high school where the biggest class was 30 people. It was pretty different. I thought I walked into a movie theater, to be honest. I thought it was just a movie theater and I was in the wrong place. It was my macroeconomic principles class. I’ll never forget that. It was Econ 212 or something. I’ll never forget that.
It’s different feelings. To be able to win here on such an iconic golf course that I grew up idolizing and just dreaming to play. I told my girlfriend many times, I’m just extremely happy to be teeing up at Torrey South, remembering all the great shots that Tiger and Phil and many other players have hit at this golf course, that bunker shot that John Daly had, many other things. And then on top of that to be able to get my first win on Tour here, I mean, that doesn’t get much better than that.
Q. How much English did speak when you got to Arizona State, would you say, scale of 1 to 10?
Coach [Tim Mickelson, Phil’s younger brother], do you want answer that for me?
“One,” he responded.
It was seriously a process where you would ask me that question and I would have to translate to Spanish, understand it, think what I had to say in Spanish, translate it to English and then say it. A lot of times I wouldn’t understand some words and I would just be too embarrassed about the time I was thinking and I would just say yes or no.
Q. Did you say yes or si?
I would say yes or no. It was hard at first because besides I learned — I grew up learning about U.K. English, that accent and those phrases. When I came here and they were a little different, a couple different phrases, it was kind of hard to get adjusted. But mainly I had to learn a new language.
Q. You’ve done remarkably. How did you do it and was there a point early on where you thought I’m not going to make it, I can’t make it here much longer?
I never thought I couldn’t make it. I really don’t think that I can’t make it really ever. That’s probably why what happened today happened.
What I needed to do was to learn and quick. I knew I had to. It was going to be a struggle but I did. One of the things coach did, Alberto Sanchez, my teammate, it’s a Mexican family, he speaks Spanish so we used to speak Spanish. And[Coach] was tired of it because I remember we’re at [Scottsdale’s] McDowell Mountain, 16th hole. We were playing with one of my former teammates, Chris Russo, and we were speaking Spanish. Coach said, “Hey, Chris, how does itfeel to be in America and not be able to understand the people you’re playing with?”
So he made a decision, okay, from every word you guys say in Spanish from now on in front of the team, it’s going to be one burpee. And a burpee’s pretty much a pushup and jump up
and back to pushup. So you say a sentence that has 10 words, you’re making 10 burpees. And they’re not easy, they’re tiring. And if he catches you having a five-minute conversation,
you do not want to know what’s going on next.
So just scared of having to do that, I put myself into, you know, reading the syllabus daily, what was going on, making the class readings, and to be honest, learning songs.
Memorizing rap songs in English is actually something that helped me out a lot to be able to talk in English than talking like this [speaking slowly] and stopping and then keep going. It helped me out a lot to pronounce and actually understand what was going on and keeping up with people in conversation.
Q. Can you give us a couple or three of your favorite rap songs that you did, can you rap a little bit for us?
I’m not going to rap because the words that say are not the most appropriate, but I can say an artist. Kendrick Lamar and Eminem. I’d say my top songs would be Swimming Pools by Kendrick Lamar, which took me almost four years to memorize the entire song. I would say from Eminem, Love the Way you Lie, Eminem featuring Rihanna. And the third one I would have to say from Kendrick Lamar as well, it’s probably Poetic Justice or Money Trees. One of those three. You can look them up, they’re good, they’re good.
Q. It might take us four years to learn it.
It probably won’t.
Q. …can you just run through how you even got to Arizona, how Tim found you and like why you’re here?
I really don’t know why. That’s a question you can ask him. I don’t know why. It was a different — it’s a different way of recruiting. He really took about five seconds for a coach. He sent me a message and I said yes as soon as I could. I had an offer from another school, but they mistaken my age so they wanted me to wait one year in Spain. A guy from Spanish Golf Federation called Ricardo Relique, he lives around here in San Diego, he actually put him — Tim had an empty spot on the roster, was it March or May?
It was May. I still had to take my English test to come here. We were really in a countdown to be able to make it and Ricardo told Tim about me. I had never played in the States. And even if I was high ranked in the world ranking, no one really knew about me. He never met me before, had no idea who I was, what I looked like. He just decided to give me a chance out of my world ranking and what Ricardo told him. He offered me a scholarship like that.
To be honest, I come from a small town so I had no idea what ASU was. The only thing I knew was about Stanford, Harvard and a couple other schools, right? I had no idea where it was. I made some research. I saw a lot of Spanish people played at that school and they had a lot of success. Carlota Ciganda. So I was really — if they’ve been able to do it, why not? They like the Spaniards over there, so why not go there.
So I took a chance because it’s as much of a chance he took, I took. Landed in the States with the school year already started. I had no idea what my schedule was, I had no idea what classes were, I had no idea what anything was. Basically, they told him about me, he took a chance and thank God he did.
Q. When you were still in school and like at Phoenix Open a couple years ago and came out here and ran into a Spanish player, did you ever think about a burpee before you went to say something to him? Were you so conditioned to speaking English, did you ever think about a burpee…
No, that was only for like the first year. I think it was only — that was only for the first semester. Once I was able to communicate with people constantly without taking 30 minutes to have two sentences out, I think he just, you know, he took the rule down. He didn’t want us too sore for practice anymore so he just eliminated that rule. It only lasted for a couple months, right? It wasn’t that much. I learned quickly, thank God.
You would expect somebody with that kind of good grace, grit and determination to be very successful. And lo and behold, here he is. God has delivered yet another deserving winner.