Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands



Then to Now

Masters 2024: For defending champ Jon Rahm, one year makes a big difference

Last April at Augusta, the Spaniard was the PGA Tour star who staved off his LIV Golf foes. Now he's one of them. How Jon Rahm's LIV stance evolved from then to now.
April 05, 2024

There's a great irony waiting for Jon Rahm at Augusta this year as he seeks to defend his Masters title. In 2023, some cast him as the savior of the PGA Tour, holding off LIV defectors Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson in a thrilling final round. Now, he's the LIV defector, having gone to the breakaway circuit last December.

More than that, Rahm is both LIV’s headliner and their biggest coup. When he tees it up at the Masters, the 29-year-old Spaniard will be the same guy playing the same tournament as a year ago, but the vibe will be completely different as he competes along with 12 other LIV members. And it's no surprise that, with how much has changed, Rahm's own words have undergone their own evolution.

In a podcast appearance published in late March, Rahm spoke at some length about the format of LIV Golf, and his take was uniformly positive.

"There's a few differences, you have the shotgun start, you have the three rounds, but I can tell you as a player, once you're playing and once you're in it, I completely forget that it's only three rounds until people remind me," he said, adding, "having your competition in certain hours of the day is always going to be easier as a product. Adding at that to the change in atmosphere, you have a little bit of music and a different vibe, it just appeals to a younger generation that didn't have golf on their mind. So for people who haven't seen it, I really encourage to come and watch because it's different and it's fun."

Those words wouldn't surprise anyone who has followed professional golf over the last year, but if you were a time traveler parachuting in from 2022, you'd likely be stunned. Unlike Rory McIlroy, whose evolution on LIV we traced using a litany of public comments made at seemingly every tournament he played in over a period of years, Rahm was relatively mum on the breakaway circuit. When he spoke, however, he was adamantly against it. by the end of 2023, however, he had made a complete about-face.

In tracing the evolution that led Rahm from staunch opponent of LIV to its biggest signing and one of its most important spokesmen, it can all be broken down into three distinct eras.

Era I: The Year of Staunch Opposition

“This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this," Rahm told the gathered media at Riviera in February 2022. "Where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour. I’m a PAC member, and I have a lot of belief in Jay Monahan and the product that they’re going to give us in the future. There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”

Rahm is far from the first player to reverse course on what seemed like definitive comments, but among the group who eventually left for LIV, his defense of the PGA Tour ahead of its launch in 2022 was particularly vigorous, his words seemingly emphatic. And, despite his disclaimer, this was not the last time he would speak about it. His most elaborate remarks, in fact, came a few months later at the U.S. Open, when he spoke about turning down the money he had reportedly been offered to join LIV ahead of its formal launch that June.

1402877603

Rahm seemed emphatic when talking to the media at the 2022 U.S. Open that LIV Golf's big money couldn't lure him.

Cliff Hawkins

"Money is great, but when [wife] Kelley and I started talking about it, and we’re like, 'Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million?'" he asked rhetorically. "No, it will not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.”

He continued, praising the tour specifically:

"There's a meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There's a meaning when you win Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill. There's a meaning when you win L.A., Torrey, some of these historic venues. That to me matters a lot. After winning this past U.S. Open, only me and Tiger have won at Torrey Pines. Making putts on 18—that's a memory that I'm gonna have forever that not many people can say. My heart is with the PGA Tour. That's all I can say."

Finally, he took a shot at the format.

"Shotgun with three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut,” he said. “It’s that simple. I wanna play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years."

Rahm was always careful not to overtly judge the players who went to LIV—he is, after all, good friends with Sergio Garcia—and he never spoke about the source of the money, but his comments resonated at the time when the PGA Tour needed a staunch ally at the top of the game.

Later that fall, in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge, his position seemed ironclad. "I’m in a very, very, very, very privileged position in life," Rahm said. "Luckily, I’ve played really good golf and I’ve had the opportunity to earn more money than I need.

He did add that players like him should be thankful for LIV Golf, since it raised his earning potential on the PGA Tour.

Era II: A Slight Softening

In this period, from Winter 2022 to Fall 2023, which included his Masters victory, Rahm maintained his practice of saying very little about LIV, but there were no more speeches about money, and after the PGA Tour and LIV brokered their June 6 framework agreement, there was a slight but perceptible shift in tone from Rahm. It’s not that he seemed to be preparing for an exit, but more that he had no interest in being at the center of the maelstrom. A prime example came in July, when he was asked about the hypothetical prospect of penalties for players who returned from LIV.

"I can understand people on the PGA Tour not wanting them back," he said. "I can also understand why some of them want to come back. There's some great events a lot of people probably want to play again, some great golf courses as well. I do believe some punishment should be in order, but I don't know what. I'm not a politician. That's not my job. That's for the disciplinary board and other people that are paid to do that. My job is to hit the golf ball and try to do the best I can."

It's also of note that in this period, Rahm opted to stop serving on the Player Advisory Council. And in the fall, after previously committing to play in Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s start-up TGL simulator league, Rahm opted out, citing the time commitment needed to compete. Still, for most of this period he maintained that he wasn't going to LIV Golf, even after the framework was announced. In August, he almost sounded as emphatic as he had a year earlier.

1707645380

Rumors of Jon Rahm's possible jump to LIV began around the 2023 Ryder Cup in September. By early 2024, he also helped swap European teammate Tyrrell Hatton to join him in the upstart circuit.

Maddie Meyer/PGA of America

"I laugh when people rumor me with LIV Golf," he said on the Spanish-language podcast Golf Sin Etiquetas. "I never liked the format. And I always have a good time with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia in the practice rounds of majors. Phil respects my decision, and I respect his choice. Mickelson has told me that I have no reason to go play for LIV, and he has told me that multiple times.”

Era III: The Abrupt Change

When it happened, it happened fast—rumors swirled for a week, and then Rahm was gone.

“I am proud to join LIV Golf and be part of something new that is bringing growth to the sport,” Rahm said in his introductory press conference in December. “I have no doubt that this is a great opportunity for me and my family and am very excited for the future.”

His comments in that press conference were wide-ranging, but among the most interesting quotes, at least in the context of his previous remarks, was the admission that yes, the money mattered. (Rumors have run the gamut, with many reports saying the number was more than $300 million and some ranging as high as $600 million.)

“The money is great," he said. "It’s wonderful, but what I’ve said before is true. I do not play golf for the money. I play golf for the love of the game and for the love of golf, but as a husband and as a father and family man, I have a duty to my family to give them the best opportunities and the most amount of resources possible."

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2023/12/jon-rahm-liv-golf-jacket-hat.jpg

Rahm's LIV Golf reveal came with some theatrics, like the letterman's jacket. (Photo courtesy of LIV Golf)

He called himself "ambitious" but not "greedy," said that his future with the Ryder Cup was the biggest hurdle to signing, and that whatever punishments came, he could live with them as long as he had the support of his loved ones. The biggest change, however, were his thoughts on the format.

"The team aspect of things is absolutely key," he said. "Growing up being a football supporter, in Spain, teams are the important part. I was part of the Spanish national team for many years and more recently ASU. I’ve been part of a golf team for the largest part of the career. Having that opportunity brought a lot of those feelings back. I’m looking forward to building a team of four strong players. That’s a beautiful feeling that we don’t get to experience often in golf. It’s one of the main motivating factors for me.”

In a later appearance on a video podcast in February 2024, Rahm spoke again about the money, and this time referenced his famous quotes from June 2022.

"And yes, for me to want to change, there had to be reasons beyond the money, right? So when I said that, I fully meant it and it was true. Now, when they slap you with a large amount of money in your face, your feelings do change. I try not to be a materialistic person, but I do owe it to my family as well to set them up for success the best I can, and having kids I think changed that quite a bit."

The other factor, he said, was the framework agreement.

"When that happened, I was like, well, we are definitely coming together. There is something happening, so at least I owe it to myself to hear what they have to offer and what their vision is. I figured I owed it to myself to hear them out, which is what I did when the season was over.”

While McIlroy's evolution was slow and subtle, and still seemingly continues, Rahm's happened more quickly and feels basically complete, even as the golf world remains in flux. He faced less blowback than some of his peers who defected, largely because the framework agreement erased a significant chunk of the sympathy the PGA Tour may have had, and McIlroy has publicly supported Rahm and advocated for his continued inclusion in the Ryder Cup. All that remains is to watch how his career develops from outside the PGA Tour, and how LIV and the tour reconcile, if at all. As to the first question, we'll get our first look at Augusta.