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THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

May 8, 2018

Jon Rahm

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

MICHAEL BALIKER: We'd like to welcome Jon Rahm to the interview room here at THE PLAYERS Championship. This is Jon's second appearance at THE PLAYERS. Already three top 10s this season, a win on the resume, and obviously winning over in Spain, pretty special. Just start us out talking about being back here at THE PLAYERS at this event for your second go-around.

JON RAHM: Well, I think it's needless to say that this is a week that we all look forward to. Obviously it really just feels like it's a fifth major, to be honest. The golf course is outstanding. It's always in fantastic shape. There's few golf courses in the world that you can say is comparable to Augusta National when it comes to maintenance, which is a very, very big compliment. It's amazing how good of a shape it always is. Obviously greatly organized. There's never, ever a problem I don't think or ever a complaint from players in this tournament. The only one may be that the golf course is a little too hard sometimes, but that's something we have to deal with. It's just, tee to green, probably one of the most demanding golf courses we play, and also, not long. It's just something that doesn't happen out there on TOUR, much like Colonial. We have irons and woods off the tee, and it's just as challenging as the longest and hardest golf courses in the world. It's a true test in every way.

MICHAEL BALIKER: You enter this week eighth in the FedExCup standings. Assess your season at this point in the year.

JON RAHM: I mean, honestly, having a win already in the first half of the year is huge. Especially in my case after last year, being able to win so early, I was like, okay, am I going to be able to win this year, and if I don't win towards the end of the year, how am I going to handle it. I didn't know that second start in 2018 I was going to get a win already. That was pretty special. And it kind of frees me up a little bit once I've won already. It kind of relaxes me a little more than what I felt before going to Palm Springs. Maybe I need that tension, I don't know, to win again. But it really frees me up. And then again, having won in Europe for a third time, again, that was probably the sweetest and hardest victory I could ever go through, the Spanish Open being my home event, how much I wanted to win, how much the people wanted me to win. It's a special win and something I can take a lot from and something I can learn from for important events like this one and majors, and if I ever playing in the Ryder Cup again, I know what it feels like to have a lot of people cheering for you and know what that pressure feels like, so hopefully I can put it into use.

Q. Seven years ago yesterday, we lost the great Seve. I don't know if you ever had a chance to meet him because you're very young, but do you take inspiration from Seve and confidence from Seve that you can beat everybody you play golf against? Do you take anything away from his memory or his inspiration?
JON RAHM: I think inspiration and confidence sort of go together. I could never draw that confidence from him because I met him once. I was, I think, 12 years old, and I was too young to even appreciate who I was meeting. It was in the Basque country. It was the end of the year, like ranking and then a prize-giving ceremony, and Olazábal and Seve were both there. I knew who Olazábal was, I had no idea who Seve was and I shook Olazabal's hand and I almost missed Seve. And my dad almost had a heart attack because I had the chance to shake Seve's hand and I almost didn't. I have that memory. I never got to meet him again, never got to speak to him again. I do have some relationship with one of his sons, and I've been able to be in his house --

Q. Javier?
JON RAHM: Yeah. So I do have some relationship with that. All I can say is Seve was a huge inspiration not only for Spanish golfers like me, but for golfers all over Europe and all over the world. He was the first to do a lot of things and opened up a lot of gates for people like me, so yeah, I do try to use that inspiration and try to copy some of the things he did, how charismatic he was, how he could draw people together, how he could get people interested in golf. You know, it's something I always say, I've said it many times in Spain, if I could ever do a quarter of a quarter of what he ever did for golf in Spain, I'll declare my life a success.

Q. With that in mind, what would it mean to you to win this week, in this week of all weeks?
JON RAHM: Well, I mean, honestly I would be the second Spanish player to ever win this tournament, which would be huge, and knowing how important it was for Sergio to get that win, how emotional he was after that win in that playoff, and how much it means to a lot of people. If you look at the recent champions and you have people like Jason Day, Si Woo Kim has been playing great the last few years, Rickie Fowler, you have Sergio, Kuchar, Rickie, Tiger, the names are not bad at all. Like it's just a long list of great champions who have won here and who will continue to win here, before or after winning this tournament they've had a great year, so it just really means that you need to be the best player that week, and I think after winning that tournament, it gives a lot of confidence knowing that every part of your game needs to be so good during this week to win it that it carries on for a little while, and a lot of people have had a lot of success afterwards and before winning this tournament. Hopefully it has the same impact if I ever win it. But like I've heard Phil say many times, he looked back at this win as the same category as the majors, so I mean, that says it all for all of us. I think we would all look at it as a major championship.

Q. What did you learn from last year's Players about how to handle this course and this tournament?
JON RAHM: Well, I played great the first two days. I just have no idea what happened on Saturday, which I ended up shooting 80 something, kind of forgot what the 80 number was. But it's a placement course. You don't need to hit it long. Long length is completely eliminated on this course. So you just need to place it off the tee and then have a really good iron week. It's very demanding from the fairway to the green, and to be able to have the best chance to hit those greens and hit it close, you need to be having reasonable distances and good sides and good shots into the green.

It's more a second-shot golf course I would say rather than the tee shot, but the tee shot is actually extremely demanding, as well. Without a doubt, a ball striker's course, and obviously if on top of that, you can make putts you'll be there on Sunday and trying to win it. But if your ball-striking is really good that week, you will definitely have a chance. I mean, it's a test, and that's something that I had to learn last year when on Saturday I went a little more aggressive than maybe I should have and ended up making more bogeys than I really wanted to. A lot of patience, stick to the strategy, and sometimes just to know that having a longer iron out of the fairway might be better than having a wedge out of the rough.

It's as simple as that.

Q. If you didn't know who Seve was at age 12, when and how were you educated on his greatness?
JON RAHM: I think everybody comes across that name in Spain at some point. I think it wasn't until my last two years of high school I really started getting into like the history of golf because I love that aspect of the game, and as soon as I got into that, obviously I got into Seve, and I love watching videos and documentaries and reading about Seve's life and Seve's career. Once you start reading it, it's hard not to get inspired and overwhelmed by how much he did, having so little at first, how he started playing golf, how he'd sneak into the golf course to practice at night, how he got banned from the golf course, how he turned pro thanks to him winning a match where his parents bet a ton of money on him trying to help him financially and how at the age of 19 he was competing against Johnny Miller to win the Open Championship in one of his first appearances. It's hard to believe to do what he did and how he got to Augusta and said, well, I'm going to win here, and he won, and being the first -- besides Gary Player, the first non-American to ever win the Masters, the first European. He opened the gates for a lot of people. I mean, it's -- I don't know exactly how it happened, but it happened, and the more I read and the more I watched, the more I was drawn into what he did.

Even after he died, all those videos that you watch about him, at least in my case, just makes me want to keep watching more and how charismatic he was and how amazing everything he did was, even talking about it makes me want to keep going and try to watch more videos and just spend time studying it because he was that special.

Q. With a few months to go until the Ryder Cup, as it stands, the Americans hold the Ryder Cup, Americans hold all four majors, as well. Is this perhaps an opportunity for the Europeans to strike a psychological blow, perhaps, and how important is that for one of them to win it?
JON RAHM: I mean, I don't think it matters who's won the majors and who held the last Ryder Cup. We are going to France, which is European territory, and this is one week a year. You know, you just need to play good that week. We've seen many times people play the FedExCup, win the FedExCup and go on to Ryder Cup and play bad. We've seen many people win majors and go to Ryder Cup and not perform well. At the end of the day, it's about just that week.

For what I've talked to people, apparently it's unlike any other. 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. With all that said, what you've done before doesn't matter. 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. I don't think a European winning here or not is going to make a difference. The Americans sure have a great team. It's an amazing team. World Ranking wise alone they're amazing. The worst player is top 20. The Europeans is top 25, it's not a big difference, but it's amazing how good of a team they're going to have this year. It truly will be a hard test for both teams to be able to win it.

Q. Did winning on the West Coast version of the Stadium Course, did you gain anything that can help this week, or are they just two completely different challenges?
JON RAHM: Oh, I mean, it's night and day. First of all, it's Bermudagrass here. It's overseed over there. So that's the first difference. The ball reacts completely different on the greens.

But the design, it is somewhat similar. The course I grew up on in -- the course I practiced at in the States in college for four years was a Pete Dye design, as well. There's a lot of similarities, and I was able to win three times there. I guess I know how to play Pete Dye courses, but this one is a little bit different to the rest. Again, both of those I've won on previously, my ball-striking has been amazing. I mean, it's been about one of the, the best it's been in a long time in both those wins. I guess it just tells me the same thing: I need to really play good tee to green. And in both of those tournaments, a lot of times I sacrificed distance for fairway. Not in Palm Springs so much because it's a little wider and I could go a little more aggressive, but in Karsten, when I was in college, hitting the fairway was such an advantage, and it wasn't a long course, either, so I really -- once I realized what the strategy was after my first year, I realized I needed to keep it in the fairway rather than missing -- being 50 yards from the hole in the rough, 150 from the fairway is better, so it's something I can apply here, as well. Just keep it in short grass no matter how far you are. Tiger was great at doing that, Jack Nicklaus was the best at sacrificing distance for strategy. Hopefully you can take a couple things from those guys and learn a little bit and hopefully have a chance on Sunday.

Q. Andrew Landry played you so well in the playoff and just won in Texas. What impressed you about his game?
JON RAHM: I've said I don't know how many times, every time someone asks me how impressed I was how he faced me in that playoff, because it's not easy to do when you're going second and I'm hitting the tee shots that I'm hitting. When I hit those 3-woods on 18, hitting them 300 yards down the center, and he's going behind me knowing that at least I'm going to have a 15-footer for birdie and just knowing that and him doing it and keep going and the fact that he made birdie on 18 on the 72nd hole to force a playoff, it was intense, and who knows, if I don't make that putt on the 4th hole, maybe he does. Playoffs are crazy like that, so I was happy to see him win in San Antonio for sure. He played great. Towards the end he was able to keep it level and make pars and just let everything run its course. But he's a competitor. You can tell. He was playing good, and I really don't know, if you give us two or three more holes, I don't know what could have happened. We were both playing good.

Q. Obviously you study, you watch videos. What other players do you study? And what young players do you think are impressing you now?
JON RAHM: I don't watch really anything too much nowadays because I play with most of the players now, so I can just talk to them directly. I don't have to magically find out anything else. But I really go to anything in the past. I just love watching anything, any major championship, any big event any of those players won and see, because a lot of times those videos are 45 minutes to an hour of the whole back nine of a tournament. There's a video of Seve winning his first Open, it's a 45-minute video, and you see Hale Irwin play with Seve the whole round and see how he reacts to things, how he just gave up on the last hole. You see Jack Nicklaus play a bunch of holes as well. So it's just so many of those videos where you can actually see everybody. I think -- I mean, I focus a lot on Greg Norman, Seve, Lee Trevino, obviously Jack, whatever I can see of Ben Hogan and older generations. I think out of all those great players, I think the one I haven't learned as much from and I haven't studied as much for whatever reason has been Tom Watson, but knowing he's been a five-time Open Champion, maybe it's something I need to look into for the Open Championship. Obviously Tiger, I think I've seen everything on Tiger on the internet, Phil, which I'm good friends with now, obviously I can ask him questions, but I've seen everything he's done on the internet, as well. Sometimes it's whatever I find. I watch one golf video and then I keep going and I find whatever it is. I just get in a little time capsule, and I just keep going and going. But there's no specific one besides Seve.

MICHAEL BALIKER: Jon, we appreciate the time. Best of luck this week.

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