Assessing Jon Rahm’s place among the game’s greats

Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Masters,Syndication: USA TODAY
Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Masters,Syndication: USA TODAY /

With a second Major championship on his resume, Jon Rahm has moved himself among the 50 greatest golfers in history for peak performance.

The 2021 U.S. Open champion added the 2023 Masters to his trophy case Sunday. Rahm won by four strokes over Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, shooting a steady, nearly flawless 69.

By historical standards, it was not an especially memorable Masters showing. Rahm’s winning margin translated to 2.37 standard deviations better than the four-round field average, making it only the 26th most exceptional Masters of the 87 that have been played.

But was enough to improve Rahm’s peak average from its previous -1.50 to -1.64, and that ties him with Lee Trevino and Doug Ford for the 38th-best peak resume in Major championship history.

(For those unfamiliar with how a peak rating is calculated, here’s a brief description. A player’s peak score consists of the average of his 10 best showings in Majors over his best period of five consecutive seasons. Those wishing a more detailed explanation may consult “The Hole Truth,” by me.)

In the five-year period since 2019, Rahm has six Major top 10s in addition to his two victories. Three of those were top fives: a T3 at the 2019 U.S. Open, a T5 at the 2021 Masters, and a T3 at the 2021 British Open.

What his Masters win really did for Rahm, aside from the title, the green jacket that goes with it, and his elevation to world No. 1, was position him to further ascend the ranks of the game’s greats if he can use this victory as a springboard.

Let’s be optimistic. Were Rahm to follow up on his Masters win with one more championship plus a top five and a top 20 in the three remaining Majors, it’s possible to project him climbing into the all-time top 25 for peak performance.

He could also break comfortably into the top 60 all-time for career performance, which would be a neat feat given that he is not yet 30.

For perspective, the 23 through 25 spots on the all-time peak performance list are presently held by J.H. Taylor, Seve Ballesteros, and Willie Anderson, a trio owning a collective 13 Major titles. It’s rare air indeed.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Rahm will follow up his Masters title with more Major success. Although he does have two Major wins plus eight other Major top 10s since turning pro in 2017, most of his successes have been of the plodding, unspectacular variety.

Based on the standard deviation of his variance from the tournament average.

This Masters win was Jon Rahm at his Major peak.

In his 2021 U.S. Open victory, he measured 2.24 standard deviations better than the field average, a performance level that will usually – but not necessarily – win.

In 2022, he finished outside the top 10 in all four Majors, with scores that only equaled or — worse yet — exceeded the field average in both the Masters and PGA.

Still, Rahm was easily the biggest mover in a Masters that failed to do much for the reputations of a lot of the current game’s greats.

I use two separate and distinct rating systems to measure player performance across generations: peak and career. The peak rating was explained above; the career rating is simply the sum of the standard deviations of a player’s performances in all professional Major starts through his 50th birthday.

The table below shows how the tournament outcome affected the all-time career rankings of several of the current greats.

Player                                Finish                    Was ranked                        Now ranked

Rory McIlroy                      cut                            38th                                          44th

Brooks Koepka                  T2                             54th                                          47th

Jordan Spieth                     T4                             60th                                          55th

Scottie Scheffler               T10                           86th                                          82nd

Jon Rahm                            1st                            95th                                          83rd

Dustin Johnson                  T48                          94th                                         100th

Patrick Reed                       T4                            133rd                                       129th

Cameron Smith                  T34                         136th                                       136th

Bryson DeChambeau       cut                           139th                                       144th

Jon Rahm as expected made the biggest move, up 12 spots. But Koepka, Spieth, Reed, and Scheffler were the only others to make even marginal improvements to their career reputations this weekend.

Several of the game’s notables, among them Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau, went the other way.

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McIlroy still ranks second behind Tiger Woods among active players on the all-time career list, but Koepka made up significant ground on him at Augusta. Historically the two are now effectively at the same level.