After Farmers Insurance Open win, Rahm draws high praise from Lefty

— -- SAN DIEGO -- Minutes before Jon Rahm rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt from the back fringe of Torrey Pines' devilish 18th green, before he clinched the first PGA Tour victory of his career at the tender age of 22, none other than Phil Mickelson was asked to play talent scout and assess his game.

"Jon doesn't have weaknesses; every part of his game is a strength," Mickelson said. "I think he's one of the best players in the world."

That's right -- the man with five major championships to his name doesn't think Rahm has the potential to be one of the world's best players someday. He thinks he already is.

There's a distinct connection here. Rahm attended Arizona State, just like Mickelson, and played for Mickelson's brother, Tim, who is now his manager. So, sure, Lefty might have a little partisanship toward the kid less than half his age, but some of the anecdotes are inarguable.

Like the one about him playing a match against Rahm at Whisper Rock Golf Club. Mickelson posted what he called a "nice, solid" 66 -- and still lost, 4 and 3, to Rahm, who shot a nicer, more solid 62 of his own.

"Let's just say, I will only be his partner from now on," Mickelson offered with a laugh. "I haven't been able to beat him."

That might become a recurring theme from many of the game's elite players very soon.

Collectively, we tend to anoint the Next Big Thing too quickly these days. Such accolades should come only when performance outreaches expectations. It would be correct to recall that Hideki Matsuyama achieved NBT status with victories in four of five worldwide starts last fall, soon followed by Justin Thomas, who took NBT honors with his two-tourney sweep of the recent Hawaii Swing.

Rahm shouldn't -- and won't -- push either of those players off that pedestal, but with Sunday's win, he's already nudging them for space of his own.

"I think there's an intangible that some guys have where they want to have the pressure on, they want to be in that tough position, they want to have everything fall on their shoulders," Mickelson explained. "He has that. He wants to be in that situation. He's the one searching it out as opposed to not wanting to look at the leaderboard."

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been charting his progress. While at Arizona State, Rahm was the world's No. 1-ranked amateur. Before ever turning professional, he contended at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, finishing in a share of fifth place two years ago. Upon turning pro, he came in third place in his first start, then added a second-place result before the year was over.

He has always had the game, but much of Rahm's evolution has occurred since breaking some barriers off the course. When he first arrived on the Sun Devils' campus from the small town of Barrika in Spain, he barely spoke English, finding it difficult to communicate with coaches and teammates. He quickly rectified that issue, learning the language largely from rap music such as Kendrick Lamar and Eminem -- all of which helped him become more confident inside the ropes.

"Memorizing rap songs in English is actually something that helped me out a lot to be able to talk in English," he explained. "It helped me out a lot to pronounce and actually understand what was going on and keep up with people in conversation."

He has more than kept up with them in competition.

Rahm said he credits players like Mickelson for helping him gain more confidence in his abilities. If he can beat Mickelson, he figured, he can beat just about anyone.

"He's a five-time major champion, 40-plus PGA Tour events, so if I can beat [him] on a good day, I was certain that I could win a PGA Tour event," Rahm said. "It was just a matter of actually doing it."

Now that Rahm has done it, don't expect him to stop anytime soon.

He might not be golf's undisputed Next Big Thing, but he's at least one of them, part of a talented generation of players who are quickly proving themselves on some of the game's biggest stages.

As for those matches with Mickelson, well, just because he won't be Rahm's opponent anymore doesn't mean they can't still play together.

"He's a really good player," Mickelson said, still laughing. "I would gladly be his partner."