Rahm: “The Masters is the biggest tournament in the world”

Peter Finnan

Jon Rahm during his pre-Masters press conference (Photo: Joe Toth/Masters Media)

Peter Finnan

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Defending Masters champion Jon Rahm spoke to the Augusta National press corps on Tuesday morning and the dual major winner spoke of how The Masters means more to him than any other tournament that he’s won, including the US Open.

“It’s so hard to put that experience into words,” Rahm said. “I had heard from a few other players, a few Masters champions and a few that have won other majors rather than the Masters, that they said there’s something different, something special when you win one.

“I can confirm it’s absolutely true; that the jump from no majors to U.S. Open was smaller from than what it was from the U.S. Open to the Masters. It is the biggest tournament in the world, with no offense to anything else, but it’s probably the most followed one by people that don’t even play golf.

“That’s I think what makes the difference. Your notoriety goes up quite a bit. But it’s also the tradition. By being the only venue, we keep coming back year after year, all the traditions, all the shots, all the stories make it so, so special.

“In my case, last year being Seve’s birthday, Easter, and all the many coincidences that happened to happen on that Sunday is what made it so special.

“It’s, I think, the one memory that I keep remembering. Obviously, all the family moments at the end were great, but I still have a picture where I’m holding my son, and I’m giving a hug to my dad and my son’s in between us. And just to see that moment of me and my dad and having my son there was quite special. And that’s why I say it’s hard to put it into words because I really can’t describe it.”

Masters champions have a longstanding history of making public appearances draped in the Green Jacket in the year following their victory, after which it must be returned to the Augusta National clubhouse and only worn when on the property. And for Rahm, one moment stands out above all the other ceremonial appearances in green.

“The most memorable one for me has to be the first pitch,” he said, referencing the time he tossed the ceremonial starting throw at Major League Baseball’s showpiece series featuring his adopted home’s Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers. “Just doing the first pitch in the World Series is quite unique. Sort of having to compete for the jacket is about as nervous as I’ve ever been related to that jacket, having to be in front of all those people trying to not make a fool of myself.”

Rahm’s move to LIV was seen as a seismic moment in the cold war between the PGA Tour and LIV, with many feeling that the reigning Masters champion and one of the clear-cut star players in the game could be the catalyst to seeing elite men’s professional golf coming back closer together and forcing both sides to the negotiating table, and he admits that that had been part of the thought process before signing.

“I understood my position, yes,” he said. “And I understood that it could be, what I hoped, a step towards some kind of agreement, yes. Or more of an agreement or expedited agreement.

“But, unfortunately, it’s not up to me. But I would hope it would be something that would help expedite that process. But at the end of the day, I still did what I thought was best for myself.”

Some players joined LIV and immediately set about criticising both the PGA and DP World Tours, but Rahm retains nothing but love for the Tours which provided the platform on which he could grow to become the star player and star attraction that he is. And though he was suspended by the PGA Tour as a result, he would still dearly love to be able to compete in certain events.

“I mean, there’s no secret,” he admitted, “I’ve mentioned a few times, there’s some venues that I miss not being at, not only because I won but just because I love it, right? And that’s the reason why I played well in those tournaments. Not being at Palm Springs, Torrey, Phoenix and L.A. wasn’t the easiest. And I’ll keep saying that because those are venues that I absolutely love.

“And driving by Phoenix as often as I had to, seeing the stands, and knowing that I wasn’t going to be there was quite hard. Right? I still love the PGA TOUR, and I still hope everything the best, and I still hope that at some point I can compete there again.

“Yeah, I mean you do miss competing against certain people, right? But at the end of the day, I’ve had so much to focus on the dynamic a little bit has changed, obviously. I’m a team leader, a team captain, to an extent. It’s still golf. I can’t really influence what they do on the golf course.”

On the outside looking in last year, Rahm had admitted that he was interested to see how the dynamics would be at the Champions Dinner, but a year on, he’s preparing to host the past winners and have them each try out his selected spread.

“Well, everybody I talked to seems very excited about the menu,” he said, “which, if anything, has put a lot more pressure on me, even though I’m not cooking, right. So, yeah, I’m definitely a little nervous.

“It is quite daunting to think about the room you’re going to be in and having to stand up and talk to that group of players, right. I mean, it’s basically all the living legends in this game, active and non-active. Everybody who’s been somebody in this game is there. So as wonderful as it is to be a part of, it’s still, yeah, a little nerve-wracking for sure.”

Last year, Rahm was a three-time PGA Tour winner in the months leading up to Augusta and though he’s yet to win any of the five LIV events he’s played in in 2024, he feels that he’s in a better place physically than he was last year.

“If anything, if I would go based on how I feel today on a Tuesday, I feel physically better than I did last year,” he said. “But then once competition starts, it doesn’t really matter. Once the gun goes off, whatever you feel is out the window; you got to go out there and post a score.”

Though Augusta National always extend invitations to past tournament winners, along with other players who qualify through a variety of metrics, invitations based on LIV Golf achievements have not yet been realised and though he concedes that he’s not the best person to ask, he does feel that something needs to be done to ensure that the best players in the world have the opportunity to play their way into the four majors.

“There’s a lot of people a lot smarter than me that could figure this out in a much more efficient way,” he shrugged. “But the obvious answer is that there’s got to be a way for certain players in whatever tour to be able to earn their way in.

“That’s the only thing can I say. I don’t know what that looks like. But there’s got to be a fair way for everybody to compete.”

Asked about his legacy and where he sees it, Rahm feels it’s a little premature to talk about but referenced the impact that the legendary Seve Ballesteros had on the game in his home country.

“One of the great things about Seve in Spain is how much he grew the game in Spain. When he started playing golf, there was, I think, 15,000 licensed golfers in Spain. And by the time he passed away, there was over 300,000,” he said.

“So however I can influence that to increase and have more playing opportunities in Spain and more people involved in the game, in this wonderful game we all love, I think that would be a success in my mind, however that looks like.”

As a parting note, when it was suggested that preparing for a Masters defence playing LIV tournaments could be a hindrance, Rahm conceded that there naturally were differences but emphatically dismissed the suggestion that the levels of competitiveness were significantly different.

” To me, that’s an argument that, if you haven’t experienced being playing in a tournament, you can’t really understand,” he responded. “I understand there’s less people. I understand the team format’s a little different. I understand we’re going shotgun and things are a little bit different to how they are in a PGA TOUR event. But the pressure’s there. Like, I want to win as bad as I wanted to win before I moved on to LIV.

“So, yeah, going down the stretch when you’re in contention is the exact same feelings. That really doesn’t change. The same way it was when I went through the Spanish Open or many other events where the field might not be up to the level that it could be on a designated event, right, that doesn’t really — winning is winning, and that’s what matters.”

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