ERIN, Wisc. -- Jon Rahm was standing just off the 14th green Friday, staring at a chip from above the hole that he knew was going to be impossible to get close. His temper was already simmering to a boil. He'd had a bad lie on his previous shot from the bunker. Now he looked like a diesel engine threatening to overheat. He executed the delicate flop shot as deftly as he could, but as he watched his ball scoot 20 feet past the hole, his rage bubbled over.
Rahm slammed his wedge into the ground, then punted it several feet with his foot. He picked it up, raised it above his waist and fired it into the turf again. After he missed his lengthy par putt and tapped in for bogey, he stormed up the hill to the 15th tee and, while waiting for Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, took his ball out of his pocket and fired it somewhere into the distance. Before his playing partner's arrival, he walked over the white wooden sign post that marks the yardage on the 15th tee and punched it three times. Not hard, but not soft either.
Then, remarkably, he birdied the 15th hole -- the lone highlight in a round of 73 that left him 5 over for the U.S. Open, well outside the cutline in a tournament in which he entered as one of the favorites.
Typically, this is where you might expect me, ESPN columnist and self-appointed arbiter of golf course decorum, to scold Rahm severely to let you, Rahm and anyone who will listen -- think of the children! -- know how unwelcome that behavior is in a gentleman's game. After all, what happened on the 14th hole wasn't an isolated incident. Over the course of two frustrating days at Erin Hills, I saw Rahm kick his golf bag, chuck his putter, throw a bunker rake, tomahawk-fling a 7-iron up the 17th fairway, and following one particularly bad drive pound his fist into his hands, repeatedly, like a professional wrestler gearing up for "Monday Night Raw."
So this might be where you expect me to call for a fine, a suspension and demand an apology.
But I won't, because that would be disingenuous.
I, you see, have had too many moments on a golf course where I felt like Rahm, where I couldn't find my swing and couldn't control my temper, chucked a club or belted out a curse word, acted like Happy Gilmore on a bender. It's not much fun to play with that kind of golfer, but I've been that guy, sadly. Or at least, I was until the day an uncle -- who played for years as a scratch -- pulled me aside and gave me some advice a PGA pro had once given him: "You know," he said, "you're not good enough to get this mad."
The truth hurts.
Rahm is good enough, I suppose. At the age of 22, he's already one of the best players in the world, and we've still only seen a flicker of his potential. He's going to contend in majors for a long time, perhaps even U.S. Opens. But there is also a good chance his temper is going to limit some of that potential, too. At very the least, he's going to be a magnet for criticism. Those with even tempers will be far less forgiving than I am.
"I've always been criticized for it," Rahm said. "I don't know what to say. I feel bad when I react sometimes. It's something I can't control. But at the end of the day, I need to look to my golf game."
To Rahm's credit, he knows his outbursts are not a great look, that he has to make some changes, if only because it can negatively affect his game. "I get mad, and then I feel bad for getting mad, and then it just makes me feel worse," Rahm said. "It's a very downward spiral that I go into a negative place."
Tiger Woods had a temper, of course, and it rubbed plenty of people the wrong way, even at the height of his powers. But for Woods, his outbursts seem to serve as a pressure valve. He cursed and raged, slammed clubs into the turf, and then returned to some icy version of Zen. Rahm views it similarly.
"I know golfers are supposed to try and internalize everything," Rahm said. "I wish I could. Just imagine a Coca-Cola bottle. You shake it once, it comes down. You shake it again, it does down. If you open it, it's a complete mess. That's what happens if I try to keep it down. At some point, I'm going to miss a shot that's not that bad, and I'm going to lose it."
What's unfortunate for Rahm is that he's quite thoughtful and insightful away from the course. He's one of the friendliest players on tour. But it's easy to get a reputation as a guy whom other pros don't want to be paired with, and it would be a shame if it was Rahm's fate. He is often -- somewhat foolishly -- compared to Seve Ballesteros because of their shared Spanish heritage, despite the fact that their games are nothing alike. (Rahm hits it a mile off the tee; Ballesteros was often lost with a driver in his hands, but an artist with a wedge.) Still, in temperament, the two Spaniards actually have a lot in common.
Ballesteros, in time, learned to channel his anger, his passion and his competitive fire, into his golf game. For Rahm's sake -- and for the sake of delicate eyes and ears everywhere -- let's hope he can do the same. Unlike me, Jon Rahm is too good to get this mad.