Masters

Masters 2024: Jon Rahm talks unique title defense and what would be a 'dream come true' at Augusta

March 19, 2024
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Christian Petersen

Jon Rahm hasn’t had a chance to defend a title in almost a year. Weird, right? Add that to the novelty of his return to Augusta National Golf Club next month as the reigning Masters champion.

Rahm has given plenty of thought to his menu for the Champions Dinner—he talked about it for nearly eight minutes during his Zoom conference Tuesday morning—and has expended a bit of time pondering the speech he must make that night in front of all the other owners of a green jacket. But what hadn’t occurred to him is that the upcoming 86th Masters Tournament will be a different experience in yet one more manner.

Rahm’s four-stroke victory last year over Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson was his fourth victory on the PGA Tour in the first three-plus months of 2023. But because he decided in December to join Koepka and Mickelson as a member of the LIV Golf League, Rahm missed out on title defenses at The Sentry, The American Express and the Genesis Invitational.

The last time he competed in a tournament as the defending champion was the Mexico Open at Vidanta, which last year was held two weeks after winning the Masters for his second major title. Rahm chuckled when reminded of such an unusual set of circumstances.

“I hadn't thought about it until now, honestly,” he said. “I try to go about my day-to-day business and what I'm trying to accomplish right now, but yeah, I haven't thought about … I have defended the Spanish Open, so this could be my second ever title defense. That would be quite incredible.

“I think just it being the Masters and being a major, it's already a different week as it is, so I don't know if I would have [been] thinking about those tournaments I haven't defended on. It's done. It's past. It's a decision I made, and I'm comfortable with it. But I'm hoping I can come back, and hopefully I can actually defend [the Masters], as well. 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.”

It's a short list. Rahm, 29, will attempt to become the fourth player to win back-to-back green jackets, joining Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

While he insists that the title defenses from which he was absent are in the past, that doesn’t mean he didn’t miss going back to venues where he’s had success.

“Yeah, I'm not going to lie; for everybody who said this would be easy, some things have been, but not being able to defend some titles that mean a lot to me hasn't,” said Rahm, who admitted that he watched the broadcasts of those events. “I love Palm Springs. I've been able to win twice there. Riviera is about as charismatic of a golf course as we have. It's definitely a week that it's fantastic for a lot of us, and it's a fan and player favorite. Not being there was difficult.”

Still the No. 3 player in the world despite not earning World Ranking points in the four LIV events in which he’s appeared this year, Rahm said his game is trending “in a really good direction,” and that mentally he feels great not playing as much as he did a year ago. His preparation for the Masters includes a LIV event at Doral in Miami the week prior, and, more importantly, an upcoming visit to Augusta, his first since his victory.

“I will actually be going next week, probably for a couple of days, if I'm allowed to say that. I think I am,” Rahm said a bit sheepishly. “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.”

And while he’s there, he’ll cross one more item off his to-do list. He has to find his new locker in the Champions Locker Room.

“I think my next thing,” he said, “is seeing where my name is going to be, who am I going to be sharing a locker with.”

Winning the Masters is a life-changing event, and Rahm already has discovered that. Throw in the decision that changed the arc of his pro career, opting to join LIV, and this Masters will be unlike any other for a defending champion.