Jon Rahm – ‘Difficult’ to not defend titles that mean a lot to me

After jumping from the PGA Tour to the LIV Golf League in December, Jon Rahm didn’t get a chance to defend his first three victories from 2023.

Rahm could only watch the Sentry in Hawai’i, American Express in La Quinta, California, and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles on TV after PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended him for competing in the LIV Golf League.

Rahm, 29, also missed playing in last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, the tour’s flagship event and “fifth major.”

“I’m not going to lie; for everybody who said this 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 Tuesday. “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 is 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 Hawai’i because it’s another tournament that my family enjoys, and I’ve done fantastic on.”

Finally, Rahm will get a chance to defend a title at the Masters, the first major championship of the season, at Augusta National Golf Club starting April 11. Jack Nicklaus (1965, 1966), Nick Faldo (1989, 1990) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2002) are the only back-to-back winners at the Masters.

“I think just being the Masters and being a major, it’s already a different week as it is,” Rahm said. “I don’t know if I would have [defended the other tournament wins], and I will be thinking about those tournaments I haven’t defended on. It’s done. It’s past.

“It’s a decision I made, and I’m comfortable with it. But I’m hoping I can come back, and hopefully I can actually defend [at the Masters], 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.”

Last year, Rahm survived a 30-hole marathon on Sunday and erased a 4-shot deficit to defeat Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson by 4. His victory came on what would have been his idol Seve Ballesteros‘ 66th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the Spaniard’s second Masters win.

“I hadn’t thought about it until now, honestly,” Rahm said. “I try to go about my day-to-day business and what I’m trying to accomplish right now. I have defended the Spanish Open, so this could be my second-ever title defense. That would be quite incredible.”

Rahm, 29, signed a multiyear contract reportedly worth more than $300 million to become captain of the LIV Golf League’s new Legion XIII team. He will host the Champions Dinner as the reigning green jacket winner and expects a warm reception from other golfers.

“I mean, so far I haven’t had any bad experiences,” Rahm said. “I’ve seen other PGA Tour pros, and I haven’t really seen anything bad. I’m assuming there will be quite a few that are not happy and maybe our dynamics [have] changed, but as it comes to my side, nothing changes. I still respect everybody on both sides and respect the game of golf above all.”

On Monday, Monahan and player directors from the PGA Tour’s policy board, including Woods, met with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, in the Bahamas. The PIF, which has financed the LIV Golf League the past three years, is considering an investment in PGA Tour Enterprises, a newly formed for-profit entity.

If a deal gets done, men’s professional golf could be reunited after three years of bitter disputes and controversy.

“Now, the future of the game at this point is up to the people higher up,” Rahm said. “I think I’ve said it before, I think there’s a way of coexisting, and if there’s some type of union, I don’t know what that looks like, but again, I just want to be able to see the best in the world compete against the best in the world, whatever that looks like.”

Rahm is second in the LIV Golf League’s individual points standings after finishing third in Mexico in his debut, eighth in Las Vegas, fifth in Saudi Arabia and 14th in Hong Kong. His team won a team title at the season opener in Mexico.

A year ago, Rahm had already won three times in eight starts on the PGA Tour before capturing his second major championship win at Augusta National. In his last two starts before the 2023 Masters, he was forced to withdraw after only one round at the Players Championship because of illness and tied for 31st at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The third-ranked golfer in the world will have only five starts this season before the Masters, which follows LIV Golf’s April 5-7 tournament at Trump National Doral outside Miami.

Rahm plans to play a couple of practice rounds at Augusta National next week.

“Last year I didn’t play the week before the Masters,” Rahm said. “This year I am. But I’ve done it in the past and done well. It’s hard to say what’s better or not. It’s a little different.”

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