He won the Masters. He left for LIV. One year later, everything’s changed

Jon Rahm is back at Augusta National a year after his Masters win.

Jon Rahm is back at Augusta National a year after his Masters win.

Michael Schwartz

This piece originally ran in the April 2024 issue of GOLF Magazine.


These last few months, he’s been reminded of it often. There was what he said in February 2022, when LIV Golf was nearing formation—and Rahm went out of his way to declare his fealty to the PGA Tour: “There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league,” he said then. “It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”

Or in June 2022 at the U.S. Open, with some stars already out the door, when he shrugged off a massive potential payday: “Money is great, but when [he and his wife] started talking about it, we were like, ‘Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million?’ No, it will not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.”

But that was before. Before Rahm won the Masters. Before the PGA Tour reached a framework agreement with LIV. And before Rahm had a very real offer for very real hundreds of millions of dollars.

“When I said that, I fully meant it and it was true,” Rahm says now, when presented with those statements.

He knows the question is coming. We’re in a side room at the Biltmore, an iconic Miami golf course and hotel where LIV Golf is conducting a content shoot ahead of its 2024 season. Rahm is dressed head to toe in black, his hat and shirt each bearing the circular scarlet insignia of a yet-to-be-unveiled 13th LIV team, Legion XIII. It’s a bit surreal, seeing him in full LIV kit for the first time. It must be for him, too, knowing this wasn’t a future he’d imagined. But things have changed.

“When they slap a large amount of money in your face, your feelings do change,” he says.


The 2023 edition had a little bit of everything.

It had wild weather. It was cold. It was wet. It was windy. It was muddy. It was ugly. On Friday afternoon, play concluded when several massive pines toppled over in the wind, miraculously missing every spectator in the area as they fled to safety in the nick of time. On Saturday, the second round finished in misery, with the unlucky final groups — including a waterlogged Rahm, who persevered the best — trudging up the 18th hole in 46 degrees and pouring rain. That afternoon, play concluded for the day when the greens began flooding past playability.

The tournament had off-course drama. This was the first time in 2023 that a full slate of LIV golfers were teeing it up alongside their PGA Tour counterparts. Cam Smith had won the previous major, the 2022 Open Championship, before defecting to LIV. Phil Mickelson was returning to Augusta National after a one-year ban. The champions dinner promised to be a room divided. And, by Sunday morning, the competition had been winnowed to a two-horse race between arguably the Tour’s best player, Jon Rahm, and LIV’s greatest modern major champion, Brooks Koepka.

The weather meant the leaders played 29 holes on Sunday, setting up a side-by-side showdown of alpha dogs. Koepka may be golf’s winningest modern major champion, but, as the marathon finale rolled on, he proved no match for Rahm, who began the day four shots back but took the lead on the 6th hole of the final round and never looked back.


Because the Masters is golf ’s biggest tournament, its patrons, its staffers and its members root desperately for a winner deserving of the green jacket and everything that comes with it. In Rahm, they’d found one. It was the 11th win of the then-28-year-old’s PGA Tour career. It was his fourth win of the season. It returned him to No. 1 in the world. It was the coronation of one of the best players of his generation.

Not only had Augusta National’s four-day test identified a worthy winner; the man the club added to its illustrious list of champions was a passionate golf historian fully in touch with the gravity and greatness of his accomplishment. He was speechless knowing he’d become the first European player to win both the U.S. Open and the Masters. He loved the idea that he was joining a green-jacketed group that included Spanish heroes Sergio García, José María Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros. And he got choked up knowing he’d done so on what would have been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday — and the 40th anniversary of his second Masters triumph.

“I never thought I was going to cry by winning a golf tournament, but I got very close on that 18th hole,” he said post-round.

How did Rahm do it? How did he reach the pinnacle of the sport? How did a boy with a clubfoot from an unassuming background in a seaside town in Spain become arguably the best golfer in the world?

Commitment, he says. And confidence. And finding where the two overlap.

“What I’ve always had, ever since I was a kid, that allowed me to get to this point is extreme confidence in myself,” he says during our sit-down in Miami. “I truly believe that I can accomplish certain things. And that’s why I can go and work on those things with full faith that I’m going to accomplish them. I was never the most gifted. I was never the longest. I was never the fastest. I was never any of that. But if I had to pick my superpower, it would be that confidence.”

The shot that sealed the Masters came from behind a tree at No. 14. Rahm’s lead was three—over Koepka, who’d stalled out, and Rahm’s mentor Phil Mickelson, who’d spent the day charging up the leaderboard. Now Rahm appeared to be in a spot of trouble. But he opened his stance, threaded the ball just left of the branches before him and watched as it cut to the middle of the green, caught the slope and rolled to within a few feet of the hole, setting up birdie and making the final few holes mere formality.

The green jackets were understandably delighted. They showered Rahm with praise. Mickelson was there to greet him as he walked off the 18th green. Jordan Spieth was too. In the months that followed, Rahm says he could feel people look at him differently: “Everything evolved, especially with the public. The level of respect I got from the crowd went up.”

But what neither the public nor the green jackets understood — and what Rahm didn’t either, at least not until later — was the subtext of his win. A Masters title has always come with fame and fortune. But that year it meant something else too: leverage. The victory laid the foundation for his earthshattering shake-up of the establishment.


A black jacket, that is. And not just a new era for Rahm but a new era for pro golf. On December 7, 2023, Rahm appeared on Fox News in a black LIV letterman jacket, a sartorial choice that revealed his new league and his willingness to lean into that league’s demands — even if it meant dressing the part of a villain. In leaving the PGA Tour for LIV, Rahm became its first high-profile signee since the two leagues had announced their agreement in June. He told host Bret Baier that he was eager to be a part of the league, to champion its mission of growing the game, to embrace team golf and shotgun starts and three-round events, even if he’d decried all of it just months before. He’d just become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world — and a well-paid pawn in pro golf ’s ongoing sparring and negotiations.

It’s worth noting that Rahm had been paid well on the PGA Tour too. He had banked more than $50 million in career on-course earnings, and that was trending up. His 2023 season included $16 million in prize money plus $9 million in his Player Impact Program (PIP) bonus. So why leave?

There were two reasons, Rahm says.

The first was what happened earlier last year, on June 6, when the PGA Tour and DP World Tour showed that golf’s traditional ecosystem wasn’t above striking a deal with the Saudi PIF.

“When that happened, I was like, well, we’re definitely coming together, right? There’s something happening,” he says. “So I at least owe it to myself to hear what they have to offer and what their vision is.”

Since LIV’s inception, Rahm had told his agent not to bring an offer his way unless he considered it a “really good idea” for him. At season’s end in 2023? It felt like a really good idea. That was the second reason: His stock was at an all-time high. And LIV was looking to buy. It’s tough to believe the eyepopping numbers, but in the UK the Telegraph reported that Rahm had received an up-front payment of $300 million, with an additional $250 million-plus to come in bonuses and franchise value.

“Winning the Masters was a huge step toward thinking about it,” he says, citing the tournament’s lifetime pass for tournament champions, plus its five-year exemption into the other three majors. “Being exempt for majors, knowing that most likely you can play the Masters for life and the U.S. Open until 2031 is — I’m set with two of those. That was a big determining factor.”

Rahm knows he’ll get access to the game’s four biggest tournaments, no matter what happens with LIV’s ongoing questions regarding Official World Golf Ranking points. He hopes there’s enough time between last fall’s Ryder Cup — where he was a pillar for the victorious Euros and went 2-0-2 — and the 2025 edition for a deal to be struck that will allow LIV golfers to participate. Even if that resolution — one, he says, that is “coherent and coexistent” — takes years to sort out, Rahm is comfortable with where he’s landed.

Part of him also hopes his defection will serve as a forceful incitement to bring the two sides together.

“I’m not the biggest name in golf. Not even close,” he says. “But I think I was a heavy enough name — heavy, for sure,” he adds with a laugh — “that you can actually get people to really sit down and think about it. Because I don’t think I’m going to be the last.”

That last bit has already proven true. Shortly after our conversation in January, Rahm’s Legion XIII team agreed to terms with top-10 amateur and Tennessee sophomore Caleb Surratt. A month later, just before the 2024 LIV season debut, at Mayakoba, they signed Ryder Cupper Tyrrell Hatton too. While other high-profile names have yet to make the jump, Rahm’s presence has been a boon for the upstart league — and a winner. Legion XIII took team honors at that first tourney in Mexico.

Unsurprisingly, not everybody in the sport is thrilled with Rahm’s departure. He ushered in the new year the same way he did last year — by heading with his wife, Kelley, and their two young children to Maui, the site of the PGA Tour’s kickoff event at Kapalua. What made things awkward is that Rahm, as defending champion-turned-LIV-rebel, was suspended for this year’s tournament. But they’d booked their rooms a year in advance, the hotels were nonrefundable and they love Maui.

“So I told Kelley, ‘We’re just going to go.’ What’s the problem? Last time I checked, we’re allowed to go to the island,” he says. While they were there, Rahm ran into several Tour players. His reception was mixed.

“The ones that I’ve seen, some have acted as if nothing has changed,” he says. “And obviously some people are bothered by it. Which — it’s fair. I get it.”

Rahm has no grand plan for the future of professional golf. Being asked to determine the sport’s future, he says, was a major turnoff of the PGA Tour.

“I’m always willing to give my opinion,” he says. “But I’m just not going to be sitting in seven-, eight-hour meetings trying to figure out what’s best for everybody else. I’m not fit for that. I do not have the attention span.”

He acknowledges that any deal between the PIF and the PGA Tour will take time. He suggests five years might not be enough. He hopes for the best for every professional golfer. And he’d love to play PGA Tour and DP World Tour events in the meantime — the Spanish Open, the American Express in Palm Springs, the Farmers in San Diego, the WM in Phoenix — if he’s invited.


He’s just become the world’s highest-paid golfer, after all. Here at the Biltmore he’s surrounded by many of the other highest-paid golfers. Some of them have new cars, new boats, new mansions. If there’s contract envy, it’s not apparent — Rahm is greeted with bear hugs and jubilation by his new peers, who seem delighted to have such a big name hop aboard their pirate ship.

Rahm mentions trips and experiences and vacations. He’s already buying something for his wife. Mostly, he wants to set up his family. It’s worth noting that none of these things required this extra influx of cash — “I could afford pretty much everything I wanted before,” he says — but he won’t need to check price tags anytime soon.

He thinks back to the first time he earned a big-time golf check. That splurge, he says, wasn’t a giant house or a glitzy car. It was an Xbox. Then, as now, he had money left over. When he and Kelley decided that hundreds of millions wouldn’t change their lifestyle, they may have been right.

But their life? That’s already happened.

Dylan welcomes your comments at dylan_dethier@golf.com.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. 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.