PGA Tour

Rahm grabs lead in pro debut, Els lurks

2016-06-24 06:42
Jon Rahm (Getty)

Bethesda - Jon Rahm took some advice from legend Jack Nicklaus and it paid off on Thursday with a seven-under par 64 in his first professional round to seize the US PGA National lead.

Rahm, a 21-year-old Spaniard, made a bogey-free start to his pro career at Congressional Country Club to grab a one-stroke lead over Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas at the Tiger Woods-hosted tournament.

South Africa's Ernie Els, who won one of his four major titles at Congressional in the 1997 US Open, was in a pack of eight sharing third on 66.

After sharing 23rd as the low amateur at last week's US Open at Oakmont, Rahm chatted with 18-time major champion Nicklaus, seeking some lessons on his new career.

"Jack knows a lot about golf and a lot about life," Rahm said. "He has so much experience and he never said anything too complicated. He told me to just be myself and not try to do more than what I can do.

"I certainly put that on today and played probably some of the best golf I can play."

Rahm, a former world amateur number one who idolizes the late Spanish star Seve Ballesteros, began on the back nine at the tricky par-3 10th but cleared the water and made par.

"I was really anxious on the tee," Rahm said. "I knew I had one of the hardest par-3s I'm going to play all week in front of me. A 6-iron over water, hit a good shot on the green, two putt and I got my round started."

A 27-foot birdie putt at the 12th followed and Rahm dropped his approach at 14 inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie, then closed his first nine holes with another 27-foot birdie putt.

He made the turn with a five-foot birdie putt at the first hole, then sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the fifth.

"A downhiller, it broke quite a bit, and I made it," Rahm said. "It was a good putt, probably the best putt I hit all day."

Rahm put his approach inches from the cup to set up a birdie at the par-5 sixth and sank another five-foot birdie at eight to seize the lead. He missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth but tapped in for par and the lead.

"I was comfortable with the driver. I was hitting it really straight and long," Rahm said. "Thanks to that I was able to be a little more aggressive to some of the pins.

"My main focus was trying to keep my expectations down. I didn't want to think this was going to be easy. It's not. A PGA Tour event, one of the iconic courses... it was hard to keep my expectations down after last week but I managed to stay relaxed."

Vegas fired seven birdies as well but he found a bunker off the tee at the par-3 second to set up his lone bogey.

"I'm happy with where I'm at," Vegas said. "Amazing to shoot 65 on this course, which is probably one of the toughest we play all year."

Els played a course where he won a US Open for the second week in a row, after Oakmont last week where he took the 1994 title in a playoff. He used caddie Ricky Roberts at Congressional just as he did 19 years ago.

"You can't help yourself thinking back," Els said. "A lot of water under the bridge so to speak. But winning a major at a special place, playing here again, you just keep thinking back on shots. Almost every single hole there's a moment we can remember still. It's nice to draw from."

Leading scores on Thursday after the first round of the US PGA National (par 71, USA unless noted):

64 - Jon Rahm (ESP)

65 - Jhonattan Vegas (VEN)

66 - Jamie Lovemark, Kyle Reifers, Camilo Villegas (COL), Bill Haas, Ernie Els (RSA), Harold Varner, Billy Hurley, Wesley Bryan

67 - Kim Si-Woo (KOR), Webb Simpson, Charley Hoffman, Fabian Gomez (ARG), Steve Marino, Sam Saunders, Marc Leishman (AUS), Robert Garrigus, Mark Hubbard, John Senden (AUS), Smylie Kaufman

68 - Lucas Glover, Will MacKenzie, Michael Kim, Sean O'Hair, Scott Langley, Chesson Hadley, Luke List, Martin Laird (SCO), Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh (FIJ), Blayne Barber, Erik Compton

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