TULSA, Okla. – Jon Rahm’s strength is even more pronounced this year. One of the game’s elite drivers over the past few seasons, he’s taken his ball-striking to the next level and leads the PGA Tour in hits won: off the tee.
“I haven’t changed anything, personally,” he said Tuesday ahead of the PGA Championship.
But then he clarified that was not entirely true.
First, the stats: This season, Rahm is setting a Tour record with 1.31 strokes per round off the tee – an improvement of almost half a stroke from last season, when he is ranked second on the Tour. He is over seven meters taller, averaging 316.7 meters per pop. And it hit 2 mph in swing speed, all the way up to 120 mph, which is not insignificant when, at the highest level, small adjustments can make a big difference.
Rahm said he was using a more forgiving rider pattern than last year, but the real “game changer” was his… shoes.
Rahm revealed last year that he was born with clubfoot, meaning his right foot was turned at a 90 degree angle. Doctors broke his ankle bones to fix the problem, but it still caused issues and mobility limitations – the reason he doesn’t take a full backswing.
Last year, while playing the best golf of his career, Rahm wore a Travis Mathew model shoe that caused discomfort on certain shots and lies.
“It wasn’t the best shoe for me,” he said. “I shouldn’t wear flats like that because I end up in pain. While we were working on something that worked for me, it was a good solution for a few months.
But in the fall, he worked with the company’s Cuater team to create a custom insole that better suited his unique needs.
Full PGA Championship tee times
“I think it allowed me to be a bit more stable and increase my ball speed and swing speed without being worried,” he said. “I think I can keep that speed from the first tee shot on Thursday to the last Sunday a bit more consistently.”
A player’s shoes took on renewed importance at the Masters, when Tiger Woods showed up wearing a pair of FootJoy shoes instead of his usual Nikes. He explained that due to the limited mobility of his right ankle from his car accident, he needed more stability. This change allowed him to return to competition earlier than expected.
Rahm’s limitations may not have been as severe, but the change of points had a significant impact on the course.
“For any athlete, the only point of contact we have with the ground is our feet,” he said, “so I think that should be the most important thing.”