An unusual partnership that makes sense at Zurich
April 23, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview
AVONDALE, La. – Among the 80 two-man teams in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, some of the pairings are obvious. Good friends, college teammates, fellow countrymen. Others are, at least on the surface, head-scratchers.
For instance, Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer. The young, intense Spanish star and the laid-back veteran from Texas
Why are they playing together this week at TPC Louisiana?
“I think a lot of people are asking that,” Rahm said.
The simple answer is that they each needed a partner. For the first two years after the Zurich became the PGA TOUR’s only FedExCup team event, Palmer played with fellow Texan Jordan Spieth. Last year, in Rahm’s first start here, he played with close friend Wesley Bryan.
Spieth is sitting out this year, while Bryan is recovering from surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Had Bryan been healthy, he and Rahm would’ve been together this week. But since he isn’t …
“It was an easy call for me, to shoot Jon a text,” Palmer said. “Throw it out there and see if he bit. I didn’t know for sure.”
Rahm, of course, would be a welcomed partner for any player. He’s currently ranked 11th in the world and has six worldwide wins since 2017. Oh, and he beat Tiger Woods in Singles at last year’s Ryder Cup, then won Tiger’s Hero World Challenge in November.
Rahm’s caddie, Adam Hayes, is close friends with Palmer and his caddie, James Edmondson, so that was another connection. Plus, in a bit of fortuitous coincidence, Rahm (and Bryan) played the first two rounds at Zurich last year with Palmer (and Spieth). In essence, they had seen each other up-close at TPC Louisiana without even knowing they would be future partners.
Rahm said yes.
“It kind of fit,” Rahm said. “Similar games. Felt like it was a good partnership.”
But their story goes much deeper.
The first time Rahm and Palmer met was the final round of the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Rahm was still an amateur, a junior at Arizona State. Palmer was five years removed from his most recent PGA TOUR win. Both were tied for fifth going into Sunday.
Due to the Super Bowl being held in Phoenix that night, tee times were moved up for the final round, with threesomes off two tees. Thus, Palmer, Rahm and Zach Johnson were in the next-to-last group to tee off. It was Rahm’s first time to play a TOUR event on Sunday.
Palmer shot 66 that day, finishing one stroke behind eventual winner Brooks Koepka. Rahm shot 68 to finish T-5. Neither won, yet it was a good day for both players. But the most memorable thing?
“The big ol’ poker chip coin,” Palmer recalled Tuesday after the two finished their nine-hole practice round.
Rahm, standing next to Palmer, immediately fishes into his pocket. “Wait, hold on,” he said, then pulls out a poker chip in the colors of Arizona State. “Same one.”
“He’s still got it, I guess,” Palmer said with a grin.
“It’s a college thing,” Rahm explained, then confirmed: “It was with you in the final round with Zach Johnson.”
“Yeah, and Zach not liking it,” Palmer said. “I remember that.”
So now Rahm tells the rest of the story. “It was at No. 4 and I put it like 3 feet,” he said, recalling his shot out of the greenside bunker. “I didn’t even know the rules, but I put my big ol’ coin down and I see Zach going back-and-forth, like, what the hell, Jon? Do you have a smaller coin?
“In my mind, I’m going, why the heck is this a problem? I didn’t know. I changed it right away.”
They both laugh at the memory, but the key thing from that day is the friendship formed at TPC Scottsdale. After Rahm turned pro, Palmer reached out to the youngster and offered an invite to the Battle of the Byron charity event that Palmer hosts for his foundation each May in Texas. It was the first such charity invite Rahm ever received. He considered it an honor to be asked.
“I’m trying to help as many people as possible,” Rahm said. “Obviously I’m relatively new on TOUR, so I always welcome everybody to come up and ask me. If I can, I want to do charity work.”
Said Palmer: “You want to get the best players. I knew Jon personally. I know he’s a great guy. I know how he is off the golf course and inside the ropes, so it was an easy decision to ask him to be a part of it, for sure. He loved being a part of it. He was very thankful for being asked --- which was cool, I thought.”
Meanwhile, their paths would occasionally cross on TOUR – three rounds together at the 2016 Open Championship, and another round at Torrey Pines, followed by last year’s grouping at Zurich. Now they’re officially a team.
Don’t be surprised if they sparkle this week. Rahm is, well, Rahm, and when Palmer gets hot, he can go on extended birdie runs. He and Spieth finished fourth in 2017.
Although their caddies have held most of the strategy talks, Palmer and Rahm spent Tuesday discussing who’ll hit the tee shots in the Foursomes rounds. Palmer has hit off the even tees the last two years with Spieth, but he knows Rahm likes the evens. Palmer was also hitting drivers with Rahm’s ball, wanting to make sure they used the proper ball for Rahm’s approach shots.
Their balanced chemistry could serve them well. Rahm, the fiery 24-year-old. Palmer, the seen-it-all 42-year-old. It’s a good mix.
Palmer jokes: “If he’s yelling at me in Spanish, I know I’ve done something wrong.”
Rahm turns to his partner: “I’ll never yell at you. If anything, I’ll yell at myself but never at you.”
Then Rahm explains why he’s looking forward to this week. “He’s an easy guy to play with. The first thing he told me … is you’re not allowed to say sorry. We both know if he hits a bad shot, clearly I know he’s not trying to hit a bad shot, so there’s no need to apologize. We go on and play golf. We all miss shots and we’re going to miss shot for sure this week. Hopefully less than the rest.”
Palmer: “Jon’s a passionate player. He’s great at what he does. If you’re not passionate …”
Rahm: “I’ll pump you up if you need it.”
Pumped up is what they’ll definitely be if they make the cut and hear their walk-up music on Saturday. They decided on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The song was released in 1991 – three years before Rahm was born.
“I love classic rock,” Rahm said. “I think I listen to more music from the ‘70s and ‘80s than what I do now.”
Palmer had earlier joked that with Spieth and now Rahm, he’s cornering the market on 24-year-old stars. “I’m just trying to mentor these kids,” he said, again flashing a grin.
“Yeah, exactly,” nodded Rahm. “Just stick with 24-year-olds. Whoever’s younger than me on TOUR, watch out.”