Jon Rahm’s been watching the PGA Tour — with complex mix of emotions

Jon Rahm spoke to the media on Tuesday

Jon Rahm spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of his Masters defense.

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On Sunday evening, as World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler rallied into the lead and three of his toughest competitors tried desperately to chase him down and the Players Championship crescendoed to its dramatic conclusion, Jon Rahm was watching.

This weekend marked 100 days since Rahm logged onto a media Zoom call wearing a black LIV letterman jacket to announce his defection to the controversial upstart tour. That decision meant no Sentry Tournament of Champions. It meant no Genesis Invitational. It meant no WM Phoenix Open. And it meant no Players Championship. I’d spoken to Rahm in January about that decision and he seemed at peace with it, knowing he’d been well-compensated to make the jump. But what has the reality been like for one of the best golfers in the world — and a self-described student of the game’s history — to watch from the sidelines as his former colleagues battle it out for one of golf’s most prestigious prizes?

We got an answer.

On Tuesday morning, the defending Masters champion logged onto a media Zoom call wearing his green jacket. He apologized for being a few minutes late, he apologized for what he considered a substandard knot in his gold tie (I suspect those two things were related), he launched into an epic description of his champions dinner menu and then, happily, the first reporter’s question addressed that exact curiosity.

A couple months into your new journey, how are you feeling about the tournaments you’re playing — and the tournaments you aren’t?

The subtext was clear: Does it hurt? Rahm didn’t shy away from that idea.

“There are some tournaments I’m going to miss,” he said. “I hope I get to tee it up at the Players again. It would be a little bit of a sour taste if my last-ever start at the Players was WD because I was sick.”

That WD came last year, when Rahm shot one-under 71 in the first round of the Players and then bailed on Friday due to illness. He had another high-profile WD when he tested positive for Covid at the Memorial in 2021, but Rahm pointed out on Tuesday that the Players was the only time he’d withdrawn “of my own will” in his career.

“It would definitely be a weird feeling if I never got to do it again,” he said.

But Rahm stressed that he was impressed with what he saw. He spoke to the importance of the tournament, giving weight to its legacy and tradition. That context, he said, made individual performances that much more impressive.

“The fact that I saw TPC Sawgrass come down to having people shoot 20 under par is quite unbelievable,” he said. Scheffler won at 20 under; the trio of Wyndham Clark, Xander Schauffele and Brian Harman finished a shot back at 19 under.

“I couldn’t tell the course conditions, right, I wasn’t there, but it looked like the greens were up to speed,” he said. “The greens at times maybe a little bit softer, but still, to go to that golf course and shoot that low, I would have guessed if you shoot 20 under that you are at least winning by five, so the fact that Scottie only won by one is incredible.”

“What an accomplishment, too, to be the first ever back-to-back champion with pretty much every great golfer in the history of this game having played that tournament at that golf course. To be the first one to do it back-to-back is special.”

Rahm’s LIV peers haven’t always been keen to speak to the prestige of PGA Tour events; it was notable to hear his acknowledgement.

Rahm praised the host site, TPC Sawgrass, where he said “there’s no way to hide.”

“It’s what makes it such a great championship is when you have such diverse champions,” he said, referring to the varied cast of characters that have lifted the trophy in recent history.

And then he summed it up like any PGA Tour fan might.

“It was fun to watch, and what a finish. Jesus Christ, that was one that was fun to watch. I feel for Wyndham because to come back and play the last three holes the way he did and have that lip-out, it’s gut-wrenching to watch, but it made for great TV, and it was really fun.”

What a sales pitch! Rahm reiterated later in the presser that he wishes PGA Tour players nothing but the best and that, for the most part, he’s had cordial interactions with those he’s seen. His words matched up with that sentiment.

As for how he’s enjoying his tenure on LIV?

“It’s obviously a little bit different, but I’ve been enjoying it,” he said. He spoke to the experience of traveling to Hong Kong, where he said he’d happily return on vacation. The people were nice, the golf course was fantastic and the food setup was “incredible.”

In other words, Rahm expressed no regrets about his decision to leave. Nor did he call for the two leagues to come back together; he suggested instead that they coexist.

“I think there’s room for all of us, and there’s room for the game of golf to get to the next level and have more viewership options,” he said.

But as ruminated on his Masters title defense, one reporter asked a final question about what it’s like not to be able to defend his other titles. Wins at the Sentry, at the American Express, at the Genesis…

“I’m not going to lie; for everybody who said [leaving for LIV] would be easy, some things have been, but not being able to defend some titles that mean a lot to me hasn’t,” Rahm said. “I love Palm Springs. I’ve been able to win twice there. Riviera is about as charismatic of a golf course as we have. It’s definitely a week that it’s fantastic for a lot of us, and it’s a fan and player favorite. Not being there was difficult.

“I still watched the broadcast. I still watch golf because I love watching it. But it’s hard. It was hard not to be at the Phoenix Open at the end of February, and it was hard not to be at Hawaii because it’s another tournament that my family enjoys and I’ve done fantastic on.”

The decision was always complex. There were always tradeoffs. And what happens next remains unclear; the day before Rahm spoke, PGA Tour representatives had met with LIV financier Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi PIF, as talks between the two tours continue. Rahm says he’ll double down on the golf — particularly the week he’s scheduled to return that green jacket.

“It’s done. It’s past. It’s a decision I made, and I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “But I’m hoping I can come back, and hopefully I can actually defend [Masters] week, as well. That would be a dream come true. Not many back-to-back champions, and that would be very unique to be able to put my name to that list.”

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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