Jon Rahm won’t be at this year’s Masters’ Champions dinner, but it seems like he’d kill to be a fly on the wall.
At this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, the first PGA Tour event of 2023, Rahm was asked what he was most curious about for the new year. After mentioning the Tour’s new elevated events, he said one particular event in April has been at the top of his mind.
“One thing I keep going back to, and it’s probably only funny to me,” he said Tuesday at Kapalua with a laugh, “I think the Masters Champions Dinner’s going to be a little tense compared to how it’s been in the past.”
With Augusta National’s announcement that it would not prevent previously qualified players from competing at the Masters this year, no matter what tour they play on, it set up a collision course of Tour loyalists and LIV Golf defectors.
Former Master Champions Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson have all made the jump to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which is slated to begin its second season next month in Mexico. All were invited to compete in the 2023 Masters as winners receive a lifetime invitation. They will also presumably be invited to the Champions Dinner.
Tour loyalists like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Fred Couples and last year’s champion Scottie Scheffler are also expected to attend the annual tradition. Rahm, who hasn’t won a Masters, is envious to sit in on one of the few chances to see the two groups co-mingle.
“I keep thinking about it because I wish I could be there and just be able to see how things work out,” Rahm said. “Too bad the U.S. Open doesn’t have one of those.”
LIV Golf is casting a clear shadow over this week’s event in Hawaii as defending champion Cameron Smith is not in the field after he left the PGA Tour for LIV in September. It’s also the first of the PGA Tour’s elevated events, with a purse of $15 million, designed to entice players to remain loyal to the PGA Tour.
“I think it’s an exciting year,” Rahm said. “Obviously, we’re all curious about how it’s going to work out, but we’re all excited to see what this year’s going to, how it’s going to unfold and how it’s going to play out for everybody.”
Other than the Champions Dinner at the Masters, Rahm said he doesnt feel like the majors will be much different than in years past. Depending on what happens with ongoing litigation involving LIV golfers eligibility for the DP World Tour, the four majors could be the only events where PGA Tour pros and LIV pros are in the same field.
“I think it’s going to be the same,” he said. “I didn’t feel a difference in any of the majors last year. If somebody has a problem with LIV players, they’re just not going to deal with them and that’s about it. In my mind, like I’ve said it before, I respect their choice and the ones I was friends with before I’m still going to be friends with, right? It doesn’t change the way I’m going to operate with them.
“So I think a lot of, let’s say, animosity, if there’s any, might be created more by [the media] than anything else. I don’t think there’s that much of a problem between players, at least in person, because if there is, they can avoid each other.”