He said he had felt the strain building at the Masters in April. Then ranked 12th, Rahm said he had felt “a little bit of external pressure or expectations.”
He added, “I think I wasn’t as comfortable as I could have been with the situation, and maybe I grew a little more expectations or put more pressure on myself than I should have.”
Rahm tied for 27th at the Masters. He then missed the cut at the United States Open, becoming so frustrated in the process that he unleashed a stream of expletives, slammed clubs into the ground and squared off on a tee sign. Rahm regrouped to tie for 44th at the British Open, but he wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I keep accomplishing things, and maybe I’ve put too much pressure on myself,” Rahm said. “Or maybe it’s just a few weeks I’m going to play bad a year, and it happens this year to be the majors.”
Rahm played the first two rounds at Quail Hollow Club with a pair of 28-year-olds, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, both of whom have won the regular PGA Tour event here. Rahm could learn by observing McIlroy and Fowler, who have had a few years’ head start in acclimating to elevated expectations.
The group was Friday morning’s marquee trio. Fowler, employing a conservative strategy, chased his opening 69 with a 70 for a three-under total, five shots behind Kevin Kisner, who finished at eight under for a share of the lead with Hideki Matsuyama. McIlroy made four bogeys on his second nine in his round of one-over 72 and is two over.
Rahm began the day at one under and started auspiciously, with a birdie at the par-5 No. 10 after his drive landed in the pine needles, behind a tree, forcing him to lay up. He sank a birdie putt from the fringe of the green, but his round went sideways fast.
After an errant drive on No. 14, Rahm muttered to his caddie, Adam Hayes, that he shouldn’t hit the shot until he could visualize it. His post-shot commentary is crucial to his emotional well-being, Rahm said.
“When you keep things to yourself, sometimes it doesn’t get through the system, doesn’t get flushed out,” he said.
Fowler played with Rahm at the United States Open and has seen him at his maddest.
“I feel like Jon did a great job these last two days,” Fowler said. “I also don’t want him to try and be someone who he isn’t.”
The key, Fowler said, is for Rahm to find a way to release his anger without wasting his energy; it’s O.K. to simmer but not to boil over. Rahm recognizes that the distinction can be fine.
“The funny part about my anger,” he said, “is that a lot of times when it comes out a little bit and I get mad, it kind of fuels my fire and I end up playing some good golf.”
While Rahm is known for the force of his drives, on Friday his feel on the greens was his salvation. Yes, as he was quick to point out, he watched a handful of putts burn the edges of the cup. But Rahm also sank attempts of 5, 8, 9 and 12 feet to save pars and drained a clutch 7-footer for bogey at the fifth — Rahm’s 14th hole — when he was flirting with the projected cut.
Considering that he didn’t hit a green in regulation on his first nine, Rahm said, “Shooting the score that I did is actually pretty good.”
Rain stalled the second round, but Rahm appeared likely to make the cut. He has two ways of looking at his week: He hasn’t played close to his best golf, and the final major of the year is half over; or he advanced to the final major weekend without playing close to his best golf and now has two more rounds to make a move.
“It just means the best is yet to come,” Rahm said, adding, “I choose to be positive about it.”