Masters champion Jon Rahm on Augusta title defence and LIV moving to 72 holes

Home » Masters champion Jon Rahm on Augusta title defence and LIV moving to 72 holes

Masters champion Jon Rahm has called for the LIV Golf League to move to 72 holes and believes his lucrative switch to the breakaway tour could prove a “tipping point” in the ongoing battle for the future of men’s professional golf.

The 29-year-old Spaniard is looking forward to his Augusta title defence this week having finished joint fourth at last week’s LIV event in Miami, although he led his Legion XIII quartet to victory in the team event.

For the first time this year, all of the world’s best players will be at the same venue when the Masters tees off on Thursday. The opening major of the 2024 calendar begins with the men’s game still split as the PGA Tour explores a possible relationship with LIV’s Saudi Arabian backers.

Before his move, Rahm was critical of LIV’s abbreviated 54-hole duration and despite signing a contract reportedly worth £450m he believes his new employers should consider moving to the traditional 72-hole format.

The LIV calendar currently has 14 54-hole tournaments with a shotgun start and no cut, and players compete for both individual and team honours at each event.

Speaking to Sport, Rahm said: “If there ever was a way where LIV could go to 72 holes I think it would help all of this argument a lot.

“The closer I think we can get LIV Golf to some other things the better. I think it would be for some kind of unification to feed into a world tour or something like that.

“I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I definitely wouldn’t mind going back to 72 holes.”

Rahm remains an influential global star having added the Masters to his 2021 US Open title which was won at Torrey Pines in California. He had been a staunch LIV critic but shook the golfing establishment with his move at the end of last year.

He agrees with the notion that if LIV could lure him to their ranks, they are capable of securing the services of pretty much any leading player and have now proven themselves to be a significant part of the modern golf scene.

“That’s a well thought out argument,” he told me. “I could be the start of a tipping point in that sense.

“I understood the weight that [my] decision could have and the impact it could have. I understood that perfectly and that’s why it wasn’t an easy decision.

“The balance of golf could be disturbed a little bit. Luckily in my career, especially last year, I accomplished a lot and I got to be one of the bigger names in golf.

“There are few active players that could have had a bigger impact than myself in that sense. Not to be patting myself on the back too much, but I understood the position I was in.”

Rahm points to the 6 June 2023 announcement of a “framework agreement” between the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the PGA and DP World Tours as a pivotal moment for him.

He, like all the leading players on both tours, was blindsided by the move and at the time spoke of a sense of “betrayal” by the tour’s hierarchy. “I was not happy,” he admitted.

“At the US Open trying to deal with something like that wasn’t perfect timing. What we need to reflect on is the second that framework agreement was worked on, everything changed.

“And that’s where the beginning of all this change happened. If it wasn’t me (making the move) it would have been someone else at some point.

“If the PGA Tour is now open to working with the PIF or LIV or maybe coming together in some kind of way then that opened the door for me to do the same thing.”

Behind the scenes this week the politicking will continue in the confines of the Augusta National clubhouse. Rumours are already circulating that PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan could be in attendance at the Masters.

But Rahm will put golf’s future to one side to concentrate on defending his crown. Remembering 12 months ago he smiles at the way that he initially embarked on securing his first Green Jacket.

He began with a double bogey after four-putting the opening green. “I’m very happy to talk about it now,” he laughed.

“It was very unusual. I hit a perfect tee shot, eight-iron to the centre of the green – so far according to plan – and then hit that first putt a little too hard and then misread the next two.

“I think the part that gets lost here is, obviously I’m not happy about doubling the first hole. But if you are going to make a mistake like that it might as well be early enough that you have plenty of time to rectify.

“Every single one of those putts felt good.”

‘I see everybody’s scepticism’

He bounced back with a birdie at the second and was able to satisfy what he regards as a key benchmark for the opening stretch through the cathedral pines of the famed Alister Mackenzie layout.

“I believe if you are on the seventh fairway at even par you are doing good. At Augusta National the first six holes can be really challenging.

“There are a lot of mistakes that can happen, a lot of bogeys that can happen so that was my challenge and actually I was on the seventh fairway at even par, made birdie on seven and I felt like there was no difference whatsoever.”

Last year’s tournament was blighted by the weather and Rahm was required to play 30 holes on the final day before emerging triumphant and joining fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia in winning the Masters.

“We played a lot of golf on the weekend,” Rahm recalled. “The last one somewhat like that I believe was 2005. Tiger [Woods] was telling me he played 54 holes on the weekend because of weather delays.”

He believes his form has been better in the month leading up to the tournament than it was a year ago when he posted three early PGA Tour wins. He dismisses the notion that LIV lacks the intensity of competition provided by his former circuit.

“I see everybody’s scepticism,” Rahm said. “I get it. I’ve been there, I voiced it to more people than most people would probably speak to.

“It was one of the things that was holding me back from possibly joining LIV Golf. But now, having been here, once you start the tournament I really sometimes have forgotten that I’ve only played 54 holes.”

And he is convinced that he will get an added boost from now being qualified to use the ultra exclusive champions locker room.

“Going back and knowing that you’re a champion and that you have an idea of how to get things done and the confidence that you know you can get it done again is always an added bonus,” he said.

“It’ll be a little different being defending champion but I should have a little bit extra motivation too.”

He is looking forward to hosting a Basque themed champions dinner, featuring small local snacks called pintxos, on the Tuesday evening. Tradition (there are so many at the Masters) dictates he will pick up the tab, but readily and happily acknowledges he can well afford it.

Indeed, he is ready to revel in all that comes with being a winner of golf’s most glamorous tournament. “It is quite incredible isn’t it?” he smiled.

“Being able to go in that locker room and be surrounded by those players. It’s a very exclusive club; very, very exclusive and very special.

“I’m hoping that I’m someone who can come back as defending champion and give it a good run and hopefully win it.”

He would be the first to successfully defend since Woods 22 years ago. Given the seismic impact of his transition to the LIV tour, the implications of such a success would be significant.

You can listen to the entire interview with Jon Rahm in Radio 5 Live’s ‘Masters preview’ programme from 21:00 BST on Monday, 8 April on Sounds.

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