At the Masters, Defending Champion Jon Rahm Will Face Competitors He Left Behind

The Spaniard left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf in December and returns to Augusta with somewhat less fanfare.
Jon Rahm leaves the clubhouse on his way to the first tee during the first round of The Masters golf
Jon Rahm leaves the clubhouse on his way to the first tee during the first round of The Masters golf / Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY

DORAL, Fla. — Jon Rahm is nervous. Not about his game or his swing or even defending his Masters title next week.

No, it’s the Tuesday night Champions Dinner.

Rahm, who by virtue of his victory at the Masters last year hosts the annual occasion that is only for past Masters champions and chairman Fred Ridley, has put considerable thought into it.

His menu, with a Spanish flair that included a recipe from his grandmother, was hardly a haphazard occasion.

Then there was the media call he did recently via Zoom in which he wore his green jacket and a tie that he apologized for not having tied the knot properly. (Nobody ever cares about wearing a tie for a media Zoom call.)

But it said something about how much Rahm cares, how much winning the Masters meant to him and how acknowledging its legacy and traditions is important.

“It's just an honor to be able to do that, right. It's a tradition unlike any other, like many things that week,” Rahm said. “To be part of that select group of people that won that tournament and wear that green jacket with pride and be in charge of the menu is quite incredible.

“Definitely one of the highlights of the week but for some reason definitely something I'm nervous about. I have no idea why. But it does seem a little daunting having to stand up in front of that group and give a speech even though I know every single one of them has been in my position, some of them more than once.

“It just seems—you're going to be in that room with the legends of the game, still active and nonactive, and that's something really cool to be able to say and be able to share.”

For the first time since he left in December for the LIV Golf League, Rahm next week will be back competing among a litany of players he left behind, including Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and numerous others who are still part of the PGA Tour.

On Friday, he began play in his last tuneup event, the LIV Golf Miami tournament at Doral, where both runners-up for last year’s Masters, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, are also in the field.

Jon Rahm watches a shot at the LIV Golf Hong Kong event.
Jon Rahm has three top 10s in four LIV Golf starts with one third-place finish. / Tyrone Siu/Reuters via USA TODAY Sports

Rahm, 29, overcame a two-stroke 54-hole deficit, shooting a final-round 69 to win by four strokes over Koepka and Mickelson, capturing his second major title to go along with his 2021 U.S. Open victory.

It was also his fourth victory of 2023 on the PGA Tour following victories at The Sentry, the American Express and the Genesis Invitational.

Somewhat surprisingly, Rahm—who remains ranked third in the Official World Golf Ranking despite not playing an OWGR event since November—did not win again.

He tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and made a weekend run at Royal Liverpool to tie for second.

In four LIV Golf events to date, Rahm has three top-10 finishes, including a third at the season-opener in Mexico—where he bogeyed the final two holes to miss a playoff by two strokes.

“It's a little different,” Rahm said. “I won a lot early on last year and then I went a bit of a month or so where I didn't play my best. Went to Bay Hill, played poorly. Went into Match Play, played poorly. I feel different in that sense.

“At that time I knew I was capable of playing really good, right. Obviously I had done it all year but that month was a bit of a slump, which in a weird way helped going into that Masters. I was an overwhelming favorite, but Scottie (Scheffler) was still more of a favorite than I was.

“This year I feel like I have been playing really good golf but not over that hump of winning yet. I'm confident now, and I'm equally confident on my game pretty much any given day of the year. I think that's how any competitor should be. But this is that difference of how I've been playing the last few months. I'm comfortable. A little fresher, if anything, going into these next few weeks, so looking forward to it.”

Scheffler will undoubtedly be the favorite again next week, given his strong play of late, including two victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well as the win at the Players Championship. Last week, he finished second at the Houston Open. He also won the Masters two years ago and remains a strong No. 1 in the OWGR.

If it’s possible, Rahm will head to Augusta National on Sunday night with a bit less fanfare—unless, perhaps, he has a strong weekend at Doral.

But he’s unlikely to be under the radar next week, which is why he visited Augusta National recently, more to deal with his emotions than to prepare for the actual golf.

“I wanted to go back at least once before Masters week,” he said. “I didn't want the first time back at Augusta National to be tournament week, right. I wanted to get a lot of those emotions out of the way, and also see the golf course, see if they have done any changes.

“Pretty quickly when the score guy came out, I got a million texts saying that it was 35 yards longer. Well, we're going to see what they added and what they changed.

“It's a bit of both. I'm trying to see the golf course and learn a few new things and learn what they have changed and just trying to have fun. It was a member who hosted me, I was able to bring one of my best friends and share that experience with them. It was a bit of both. In my mind, it was getting to experience those emotions of being back, going to the Champions Locker Room and seeing my name up there.”

 


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.