Jon Rahm has become World Number One for the first time after overtaking Rory McIlroy at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings
Rahm has become just the second Spanish player to top the Official World Golf Rankings after closing out a three stroke victory during difficult conditions at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide on Sunday.
“I don't know how to describe it. It's been a goal since I was 13, 14 years old,” said Rahm following his fourth victory on the PGA Tour.
“I remember I heard a story on the radio from my swing coach back in Spain, Eduardo Celles. We were driving somewhere and he asked me what my goals were and my ambitions and this and that, and I remember telling him, I think 13 or 14 years old, it's like, I'm going to be the best player in the world, and that's what I set out to be.
“It's pretty surreal to think it's happened this quickly, right, in less than 10 years. I mean, how many people get to achieve a lifelong team, a short lifelong dream, in their mid-20s? It's incredible.”
He began the final round with a four stroke lead and a steady composure that saw him double that advantage to eight shots by the turn, and held on through a turbulent back nine to defeat playing partner Ryan Palmer by three shots.
“One of the best performances of my life,” Rahm said of his scoring at Muirfield Village.
“Yesterday was probably one of the best rounds of my life, and finished today with some clutch up-and-downs. As a Spaniard, I'm kind of glad it happened that way.
“Conditions were so tough, I knew I wasn't going to play 18 perfect holes. I knew at some point something was going to go south. For the most part on the front nine, I got pretty good breaks, and I was able to get it done.”
His round included an outstanding chip-in for birdie at the par three 16th to extend his lead to four, but it was later corrected to a bogey four after he was assessed a two stroke penalty for moving the ball at address (Rule 9.4). It ultimately had no consequence on the final outcome of the tournament, as Rahm finished with two pars for a three over par 73.
“As unfortunate as it is to have this happen, it was a great shot.” He continued. “The rules of golf are clear. Had I seen it, I would have said something.
“What it goes to show is you never know what's going to happen. So I'm glad I grinded those last two up-and-downs because had I missed both of them, plus the penalty stroke, maybe Ryan finishes strong, I would be in a playoff, and I'm glad I finished it off good.
“I want everybody to hear it: It did move. It is a penalty. As hard it is to say for how great of a shot it was -- as hard as it is to say that, I won't finish double digits under par. But it did move, so I'll accept the penalty, and it still doesn't change the outcome of the tournament.”
Following in the footsteps of the late, great, Seve Ballesteros, Rahm’s latest career milestone sees him become just the second Spaniard in history to be ranked World Number One.
Rahm has often touched on the magnitude of Ballesteros’ influence over his career. Ahead of his final round Rahm alluded to Seve’s Captaincy of the victorious 1997 European Ryder Cup team at Valderrama, without which his father, and by consequence he, would have never taken up the game.
The significance of that influence combined with attaining the same accolade as his idol was something not lost on Rahm in the moments after his win.
“Any time I can join my name to Spanish history or any kind of history, it's very unique. Seve is a very special player to all of us, and to be second to him, it's a true honour.
“To be a Spaniard, the second Spaniard to ever do it, given there's not many Europeans that have gotten to this spot, it's a pretty unique feeling, so I'm going to enjoy it for a while."
Rahm, a six time winner on the European Tour and four time winner on the PGA Tour, is the 24th player, and 10th European, to become World Number One.
While expressing pride in his achievement, Rahm was also visibly conscious about the bigger picture surrounding the current status of the global pandemic, having recently lost two family members.
“I have lost two family members to this pandemic, not for the virus, but the toll that it takes mentally for those people to be quarantined and just having to deal with the situation. And one of them was my grandma, the woman who next to my parents helped raise me. She passed away actually Wednesday of Travelers, and then yesterday is when they took her ashes to her family rest spot in Madrid. So emotional, you know. The other person was my mom's aunt.
“It goes to show there's more important things in life than me accomplishing what I accomplished today. We're going through a pandemic. People are dying for whatever reason it is, and whether you believe it or not, it's going to happen physically or mentally -- it could happen to me, and still does sometimes.
“I hope we can get through this. I hope we can all be as safe as possible and get to life as normal as possible as soon as possible. But through what we've gone, my brother had his first daughter, so new life in the family. Now I've accomplished this. I think we have a lot of reasons to enjoy the next few days.”