AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jon Rahm was all smiles. Then reality set in. The jacket that Scottie Scheffler slid on Rahm on Sunday evening fit wonderfully. Rahm must have thought so, too. He looked down, admired it and fastened the top button at the urging of the rest of Augusta National’s green jacket-clad membership.
The crowd cheered. Patrons clapped. Flashbulbs lit up his weathered face, which had played 29 1/2 holes of golf on Sunday. Rahm, the newest Masters champion, was formally introduced as the winner of the biggest golf tournament in the world. And as he waved, put his hand over his heart, as if to soak in every single second of the greatest victory of his life.
His smile disappeared. He looked up, fighting tears, like a man relieved. Someone who had fought hard. Someone who’d won.
“You dream of this moment,” said Rahm, who shot 69 to win the 87th Masters by four strokes on Sunday. “But it’s always hard to imagine what it would be.”
Up until Sunday afternoon, the last 48 hours had been chaotic. Cold. Rain. Wind. Trees. Suspensions. Finally, it was perfect, save for a few problem areas where foot traffic led to muddy passageways that stained shoes and dirtied white pants.
Rahm started the day four shots back of Brooks Koepka and the final round two back of him. After rain ripped through Augusta on Friday and Saturday, Rahm, who was on the wrong side of the draw this week, resumed his third round on the 7th green at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Koepka was in his group, and after Kopeka missed his par putt from 11 feet, Rahm drained his birdie try from eight. The deficit was two, and it remained that way until the two finished their round shortly before noon.
About two hours later, Koepka and Rahm were the last two on the driving range. Koepka left first, handing a glove to a young fan and telling him he’d be around to sign after. Rahm made little eye contact with anyone when he exited. For someone who always looks serious, Rahm looked significantly more serious. He hopped in a cart, his caddie Adam Hayes on the back, and sped off toward the clubhouse. When he arrived, he walked through the elegant white building and emerged from the other side, under the big oak tree. He received a slightly louder ovation than Koepka.
The weather reluctantly warmed by the time the final pairing arrived on the 1st tee at 2:30 p.m.
“Nice now, huh?” one patron said. “Amazing,” agreed the other.
Koepka went first, hitting it so far left he was actually safe in the middle of the 9th fairway. Rahm piped it down the middle.
Patrons marched on. One stopped to dig for those Masters-logoed green plastic cups in the garbages. (Trash to some, souvenirs to others.)
“Dad, there’s too many people out there,” one young patron said to his father, looking on from the grill room by the clubhouse. In a way he was right. The 87th Masters was readying to crown a winner — and Rahm was among those due.
The 28-year-old Rahm, who won his first major at the 2021 U.S. Open, was the third-ranked golfer in the world entering Sunday. He’s had four top 10s at Augusta National and never finished worse than 27th. Sunday marked only Rahm’s seventh Masters, but that proved plenty enough to have a good handle of Augusta National’s tricky greens and subtle slopes. On the par-5 2nd, after his second shot found the bunker, he blasted out well above the hole and watched as the ball slowly tracked toward the flagstick. It almost came to a stop some 30 feet away.
“Not terrible,” said one patron, speaking the woman next to him.
The ball picked up speed as the crowd roared louder, the ball coming to rest eight feet away.
“Okay, pretty good,” the patron concluded. He clapped.
The first action happened on No. 3. Rahm made his short birdie putt when Koepka couldn’t drop his. The lead was one. First blood had been drawn.
I need to bring the fight to him.
On the 4th tee, as patrons crowded and waited for Rahm and Koepka to tee off, two friends pointed out the elephant in the room. In the final pairing, one played for the PGA Tour, and the other for LIV Golf.
It was a cordial conversation, and they settled it like adults — “We just want it to be close,” one said — but it was only natural to look at the week through the lens of golf’s tour battle, especially since it was the first Masters since the breakaway league was announced last June. The two majors since the league formed, the U.S. Open and Open Championship, were both won by PGA Tour players (Matthew Fitzpatrick and Cameron Smith). Smith wasn’t a LIV player then. Not yet, at least. His signing was officially announced the next month.
Rahm and Koepka have stayed somewhat neutral regarding golf’s civil war. Rahm said he was happy to see some of the LIV players this week; he even made a joke about Dustin Johnson’s shoes. He wants LIV golfers in the Ryder Cup.
But he’s also human. How could he not think of a win for Koepka as a win for LIV Golf? And how could Koepka not think the same? It was a potential feather in the cap of the big league’s rival, whose commissioner recently said he wanted his guys to celebrate together off the 18th green if one of LIV’s players won the tournament.
Koepka didn’t chalk up a win for LIV, but that league did show well. Koepka (73) and Mickelson (65) tied for second at eight under, four back of Rahm, and Patrick Reed (68) was in a three-way tie for fourth at seven under.
“We’re still the same people,” Koepka said. “So I mean, I know if I’m healthy, I know I can compete. I don’t think any of the guys that played this event thought otherwise, either. When Phil plays good, we know he’s going to compete. Patrick Reed, the same thing. I think that’s just manufactured by the media that we can’t compete anymore; that we are washed up.”
Back to the golf. Rahm took his first lead on the par-3 6th, when he got up and down to save par from in front of the green after Koepka failed to do the same from the behind it.
It was the first time since Thursday that Koepka didn’t hold the solo lead.
Soon after, the four-time major champ started leaking. On the par-5 8th, Rahm needed just a tap-in birdie to take the solo-lead after Koepka settled for par after an errant drive.
“It’s not match play, but early on, it kind of felt like it, right?” Rahm said. “… I wasn’t expecting Brooks to play bad. I can’t expect that, right. So I need to bring the fight to him.”
They both bogeyed 9, keeping Rahm’s lead at two, but the Spaniard played perfect golf through Amen Corner, the famed three holes that have ruined many a green jacket dream (Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, etc.). Rahm hit the safe part of the green on 10, 11 and 12 and had easy two-putts for par. His lead increased to three when Koepka missed the green on 12 and made bogey.
Now Rahm’s nearest competitor was Phil Mickelson, the brother of Rahm’s college coach, Tim Mickelson. Mickelson closed with a five-under 31, shot 65 — 10 strokes better than this third round — and took the clubhouse lead at eight under.
Rahm, two ahead, could only beat himself. He started to hear more of the crowd behind him, but he thought he had extra help, too.
In October, Rahm won the Spanish Open for a third time, matching an achievement of his hero, Seve Ballesteros, who won the Masters in 1980 and 1983. Rahm’s now the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters, joining Seve, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia. When Garcia won on April 9, 2017, it was Seve’s birthday. The same coincidence happened today, too — which was also the 40-year anniversary of Seve’s last win.
Rahm said he heard “Seve! Seve! Seve! Do it for Seve!” the entire second nine.
“This one was for Seve,” Rahm said. “He was up there helping, and help he did.”
At the Masters, a good indicator of how much tournament remains is often based on the height of patrons’ souvenirs cup stacks. People here love them, which is why they dig in garbages for them. A small stack? That means it’s early in the day. But thirtysomethings spotted holding a large, leaning tower means one of two things: they’ve overindulged, or, more often, they’ve been there long enough to collect a good haul.
At 6:40 p.m., cup stacks were high. The 87th Masters was nearing its end.
“It’s over, dude,” one patron said to his pal, staring up at the giant scoreboard by 17.
Rahm hit a brilliant approach into 14 — he called it the key moment of the day — and made birdie, while Koepka made bogey. Even after Koepka birdied 15, the lead was four with three to play.
“I still wanted to play those last four holes under par,” Rahm said. “That was the goal, knowing if I did that, it was going to be pretty much — not impossible — but very difficult for me to lose it.”
On 16, Koepka answered with a 20-footer from the back of the green for birdie, and suddenly he had hope. Patrons started to crowd around the 17th green, and Rahm’s entourage stopped left and short of it. As they settled in, Koepka ran his par putt by.
“That’s the ballgame!” one patron yelled out, speaking to no one in particular. He didn’t know Rahm’s wife, Kelley, was standing right next to him. She paid him no attention and wasn’t about to celebrate, at least not yet. Rahm still had six feet to save par, and when he drained it — his lead now four — Kelley turned around, crouched, flashed a smile to their group of about 10 and yelled, “Way to go, Jon!”
Now it felt real.
Twenty minutes later, Rahm and his family made their way to the scoring area, weaving through a path of screaming patrons. It was colder. Some jackets were back on. The sun was stuck on top of the trees that separate the 1st and 9th fairways, but shadows were still enough to see what everyone knew: Jon Rahm had won the Masters.
Rahm hugged family members near the scoring area as hundreds swelled around them, trying to get one final look at the champion before leaving the grounds and heading back to reality. Other spent patrons filed out behind them. They carried their chairs, heaping bags from the Masters Golf Shop and dozens of stale-smelling cups. It was a long day. They, like Rahm, were running on adrenaline.
Twenty yards away from Rahm, on the other side of a TV crew, an Augusta National member stood alone and watched. He wore shades and sipped on something as the club’s newest champion basked in the glory and awaited his coat.
Gazing toward the commotion, smiling, the green jacket broke his silence. He yelled across the lawn to a friend.
“Need a cocktail?”
The celebration had begun.