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.
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 exemption 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.