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The secret to Spanish golfer Jon Rahm’s success: a Basque bomb technician

Explosive specialist Joseba del Carmen is training the golfing star how to stay calm under pressure

Former bomb disposal officer Joseba del Carmen.
Former bomb disposal officer Joseba del Carmen.

On the golf course, Spaniard Jon Rahm is buzzing with energy, a ticking time bomb – albeit one that, thankfully, rarely goes off. This is much to the relief of the sporting world and his fans, who claim he is the new Seve Ballesteros and the next genius of world golf.

Emotion is simple. The more you try to contain it the more damage you cause

Mental coach Joseba del Carmen

It might seem like an extreme metaphor but it’s appropriate given his coach is Joseba del Carmen, a former bomb disposal officer from the Basque regional police force, the Ertzaintza. But that’s just one of his former roles: “I have been a basketball player, a debt businessman, a professional golfer, bomb technician… and 10 years ago I started to be a coach, a mental, leadership or emotional trainer, or whatever they want to call it,” says Del Carmen. “I have worked with players from the Alavés soccer club, the Saski Baskonia basketball team, with CEOs and business leaders. And I have worked with Rahm for four years.”

As his coach, Del Carmen helps to “deactivate” the fiery golfer, although he prefers the term “channel.”

Like Seve, 23-year-old Rahm has a temperamental character and has trouble controlling his frustration. It’s a problem that’s got the young golfer disqualified from some tournaments and seen him slapped with punitive measures.

Jon Rahm is ranked fourth internationally after overcoming his on-course tantrums.
Jon Rahm is ranked fourth internationally after overcoming his on-course tantrums. REUTERS

“But emotion is simple. It is the radar, the GPS that tells you where you have to go. And the more you try to contain it the more damage you cause,” explains Del Carmen, who survived 14 years deactivating bombs thanks to his emotional control. “You have to leave an escape valve and release them… That’s what we do with Rahm. He exteriorizes less and less because we are training in this,” he goes on. “But this emotion is what has brought him here. We cannot forget who we are or where we came from. Rahm is different, like Seve.”

But Del Carmen has not always been so composed. On his first mission to deactivate a bomb, he realized that people were much like the explosives he tried to disarm – filled with an immense inner energy called emotions. When the moment came to deactivate his first device, he experienced uncertainty for the first time.

Jon Rahm has been disqualified from tournaments because of his temper

When asked why he decided to go into explosives, Del Carmen says the unpredictability of the trade attracted him: “I became an explosives expert because there were openings and I said ‘I’m going to give it a try.’ I loved the mix of chemistry, physics and electricity and it interested me a lot because, and this is what is most similar about what I do today, I discovered that nothing was ever the same. No device is the same,” he says.

“You can never react in the same way … Every time you do something, although it might seem the same, you have to do it differently. And wherever I go, even if I go there every day, I have to imagine that I have never been there before. I apply this to sport – playing golf as though I had never played before.”

A bomb disposal officer is much more than the adrenaline addict seen in films, with a drop of sweat hanging from their nose as they decide which cable to cut in under three seconds. They are more like a cool-headed surgeon who manages with precision their chilled instruments, robot and X-rays.

“I was not motivated by adrenaline, it was not something that I looked for. I simply liked the job. It brought out new things in me every day. The emotions you have to experience: uncertainty, fear. And then later I could maintain an amazing level of calm in these situations. I thought clearly. I controlled my breathing. I meditated. And I did it naturally. By myself.”

A week after finishing fourth at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Rahm – who is number four on the international ranking and was nearly number one – competed in Madrid at the Spanish Open. Bowing to frustration in this challenging competition would have meant defeat. But the young golfer had Del Carmen by his side, and his words of advice to guide him: “You experience emotion the same way as a ball or a bomb. Fear is interior. Jump. Swing.” Rahm won the competition.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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