Jon Rahm Relishes the Chance to Defend his Masters title Against All of Golf's Best
21 Mar,2024 Credit : Andrew Redington / Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


Jon Rahm Relishes the Chance to Defend his Masters title Against All of Golf's Best

This year's Masters can once again claim to bring with it "a tradition unlike any other" - the best golfers in the world - every single one of them - competing on the same golf course, and fortunately for golf fans, that course that may be the most popular in the world - Augusta National.

"I think that's what's making this Masters and many other majors going to be so much fun, not only for me and for players but for spectators, is for all of us to be able to play together again and showcase what we're capable of," said Jon Rahm, the defending Masters champion currently No. 3 on the World Golf Rankings in a preview media conference call.

While Scottie Scheffler was writing another chapter in his list of accomplishments over the first two weeks of March, which include becoming the first player ever to win back-to-back Players Championships, Rahm admits he has been watching.

"I'm fully aware of where Scottie is," said Rahm, who joined LIV Golf prior to the 2024 season. "I've seen it the last two years. I'm fully aware where he is.

"He's a great competitor, and he is somebody that when you're under the gun and you've got to get it done, he's been able to get it done ... I feel like I don't need to be playing next to him to know what's going on. Like I said, anytime you're doing the history he's been able to do, it's quite impressive."

Even more so when Rahm, a two-time major champion, a four-time PGA Tour winner in 2023, with 11 PGA Tour wins and eight more world-wide, breaks down Scheffler's successful Players Championship defense.

"The fact that I saw TPC Sawgrass come down to having people shoot 20-under par is quite unbelievable," Rahm said. "I couldn't tell the course conditions, right, I wasn't there, but it looked like the greens were up to speed. The greens at times maybe a little bit softer, but still, to go to that golf course and shoot that low, I would have guessed if you shoot 20-under that you are at least winning by five, so the fact that Scottie only won by one is incredible. 

"What an accomplishment, too, to be the first ever back-to-back champion with pretty much every great golfer in the history of this game having played that tournament at that golf course and be the first one to do it back-to-back is special.

"It might not be people's favorite venue as a golf course because it's difficult but I think that's what makes it so fitting for a PLAYERS Championship. There's no way of really setting a dominance for a long time because you simply have to be the best. Every part of your game needs to be great and you need to play the best. There's no way to hide and maybe sneak in a couple of pars here and there. If you're missing fairways, that's that.

"It's what makes it such a great championship is when you have such diverse champions. It was fun to watch, and what a finish. Jesus Christ, that was one that was fun to watch. I feel for Wyndham because to come back and play the last three holes the way he did and have that lip-out, it's gut-wrenching to watch, but it made for great TV, and it was really fun."

Up until Scheffler's most recent PGA Tour victories, the discussion regarding the world's best player had been a tossup between Scheffler, Rahm and Rory McIlroy. Rahm's decision to move to the LIV Tour has made it difficult to keep in mind how good he was playing the first few months of 2023 when he won four times, including the Masters, in nine starts.

"I feel like my game is in really good position. I have not played my best yet. But I can see it every tournament getting a little bit better and getting to a point where I like where I'm at coming up to the Masters.

"I'm looking forward to going out there and hopefully have been a great week and hopefully having a great Sunday back nine show down with some of those great players because at the end of the day it's what golf and spectators deserve."

So far in 2024, golf fans have had to endure seeing the top players split between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. The 15 major championships since Covid 19 struck in March, 2020 have seen eight won by seven players competing on the PGA Tour (Brian Harman, Wyndham Clark, Matt Fitzpatrick, Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa with 2) while seven have been won by six players on LIV (Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Rahm with 2).

The Masters has taken the extra step to insure a complete set of top players will on Augusta National the second week of April by issuing invitations to Joaquin Neimann of Chile, Ryo Hisatsune of Japan, and Thorbjorn Oleson of Denmark. 

Having played four LIV events, Rahm currently stands second in the LIV Player Standings.

"As it comes to my new journey, it's obviously a little bit different, but I've been enjoying it," said Rahm. "... Been playing good golf. But I'm definitely looking forward to joining with the rest of the best golfers in the world and teeing it up at the Masters with them."

Rahm played eight PGA Tour events prior to the 2023 Masters, and did not play the week before. This year, he will have played five LIV events, including LIV Miami the week before the Masters.

"It's hard to say what's better or not," he said. "It's a little different.

"I'm glad that this year we're going to a challenging golf course before playing a major because that I think gets you prepped very, very well for a major tournament.

"So far it's also been a bit of a learning curve. Again, it's a change in the schedule in this early time in the year, a little bit more time at home, a little bit more time to train, and it's something definitely to adjust and to get used to, but physically I feel better than last year. Mentally I feel great.

"Again, my game is trending in a really good direction. Not that I'm playing bad. I've been in contention pretty much every week, but it could be better than what it is right now, and looking forward to keep getting better and keep grinding.

"I'm hoping I can go to the Masters and do the same thing, give myself a chance on Sunday."

Rahm's Masters victory in 2023 was the second major championship of his career, joining the 2021 U.S. Open Championship. Rahm acknowledged noticing a jump in his recognition factor after his U.S. Open victory.

"But the jump that happened after winning the Masters was much, much larger," Rahm said. "The level of attention, the level of recognition, the level of commitment, it just became a lot bigger than I expected it to be ... I think it's because it's maybe the one event besides the Ryder Cup that people watch the most. 

"Even non-golfers love the Masters week. I remember even when I was at ASU people that weren't golfers talking about the Masters and watching the Masters."

Rahm admitted being distracted by the Masters when he was a teen-aged college student at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.

"I will never forget -- and I'm not saying people should do this, but I remember being in some classes on the back row, and you could see people's laptops, and if you had a big enough class, you would see three, four, five to ten people where one of their windows was the Masters - you could see Amen Corner and you could see 1 and 2 and you could see 5 and 6 and you'd see people watching those holes mid-class," Rahm said. "They'd have it open and still paying attention while they're watching golf. I'm going to be honest, me included.

"It's I think what makes it so special, and that was the biggest thing. I think this event is recognized worldwide as the only major that's played on the same golf course every year. It's a tradition unlike any other, and I think that's why it was so big."

The 2023 Masters saw Rahm square off with Brooks Koepka through weather interruptions before pulling away to a four-shot victory over Koepka and Phil Mickelson. Rahm said he has not watched the final-round broadcast, but has watched the one-hour Masters documentary of his win.

"What stood out to me is I had this image in my mind of how great I played all week, which I did, and then I watch the actual summary, and I couldn't help to think, man, I missed a lot more shots than I thought I did, which I guess is a good lesson to have in mind, right?" Rahm said. "Not only that I could play better in theory but the fact that there's a mental lesson there. It's just mainly that you're going to miss shots out there and you just have to figure out how to minimize the damage."

"The other thing is that my short game was especially good, especially putting. Besides the first hole of the tournament, my putting was really, really good.

"I think there's a lot of lessons to learn when you're going back. Like many other sports, game film is important. I can learn from not only what I do but from what other people do, as well."

Rahm was asked if there was a moment that stood out from last year's Masters, or one that put a smile on his face. 

"The four-putt," said Rahm, referring to his adventures on the green of the first hole of the championship. "That's always going to bring a smile to my face. It's fun to think about it now, that four-putt."

Rahm also enjoys reminiscing about the evening after his victory. After the victory ceremony, after the media interview, he was able to enjoy visiting a few places in the Augusta National clubhouse with his father and his wife, Kelley.


"It's 1:00 in the morning, and I said, if there's a time to maybe get away with something, it's right now, so I asked, can we go to the champions locker room because I don't know if they're ever going to be able to go up there again. They said, 'Yes.'

"It was one of the best experiences I've ever had, to see people's names on the lockers, to actually see the locker room, to see still the showcase they had for Scottie's win, take a few pictures while I was up there. It was really fun."

Rahm then came upon a moment that has given him one of his favorite keepsakes from the championship. He and his father walked out on the clubhouse balcony, unaware that a photographer was nearby, and spent a few moments looking out onto Magnolia Lane. 

"They actually had one of the coolest pictures I have," Rahm said. "I didn't realize the camera was up there, and somebody from the corner took a picture of my dad and I talking, me with the jacket on, out on the balcony, and it's one of the better pictures we have. I think it's my dad's or my mom's WhatsApp picture, which is really cool to see, and then having Kelley up there for that, as well, is special.

"Again, I don't know if I'll be able to recreate that again with any of them, but I'm really glad that they let us do that and they got to see the history of it."

Rahm admits he has not been back to Augusta National since becoming a Masters champion.

"I will actually be going next week probably for a couple of days, if I'm allowed to say that," he said. "I think I am. I will be going next week with a really dear good friend of mine who's a member there and spending a couple rounds.

"I think it would have been really hard to go and defend not having gone once before as the defending champion, if that makes any sense. I think I can get a lot of the experiences of going back and feelings out of the way before Masters week."

Rahm, an avid consumer of golf's history, is hoping to show that, with all the best golfers competing against one another over what will be a challenging Augusta National setup, he can add a chapter to his accomplishments. 

"I'm hoping I can come back, and hopefully I can actually defend this week," Rahm said. "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."