Jon Rahm finds that there’s one thing LIV money can’t buy

HONG KONG, CHINA - MARCH 10: Jon Rahm of Spain reacts during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational - Hong Kong at The Hong Kong Golf Club on March 10, 2024 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
Jon Rahm is finding that he does, in fact, miss certain things from playing on the PGA Tour. (Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

There comes a time when we have to leave the security of our group — our family, our friends — and venture out into the world alone. And when we hear about what’s happening back home, there’s a sense of loss, a touch of FOMO, perhaps a tinge of regret: Wow, they’re really going right on without me, huh?

Jon Rahm left the PGA Tour in December for untold LIV Golf riches — as much as $600 million, by some estimates — and he instantly leaped to the top of the leaderboard on that tour, too. But he left behind some old rivals and many beloved old venues on the PGA Tour, and there’s no telling when he might be back.

Rahm is one of golf’s great talkers, expansive and insightful, and one of the low-key downsides of his departure for LIV is that he’s not nearly as available now to hold forth on the issues of the day, whether it’s the design of a given course, his own game, or the larger issues facing the sport of golf. Tuesday, he spoke to the media ahead of the Masters, and his answers were as revealing as his Champion’s Dinner menu.

“It’s done. It’s past,” he said of his choice to leap to LIV. “It’s a decision I made, and I’m comfortable with it. But I’m hoping I can come back, and hopefully I can defend [The Masters] as well.”

Last year, Rahm won three times — at the Sentry, the American Express and the Genesis — before the Masters, a magnificent run that put him in position to claim that first green jacket. But once he opted to go to LIV Golf, Rahm forfeited the right to play in those events and defend those titles. He’s realizing now what he gave up.

“I’m not going to lie,” Rahm said. “For everybody who said [the jump to LIV] would be easy, some things have been, but not being able to defend some titles that mean a lot to me hasn’t.”

He noted that not being in Riviera for the Genesis Open was “difficult,” seeing the Tour world roll on without him.

“I still watched the broadcast,” he added. “I still watch golf because I love watching it. But it’s hard. It was hard not to be at the Phoenix Open at the end of February, and it was hard not to be at Hawaii because it's another tournament that my family enjoys and I've done fantastic on.”

Plus, he’s no longer a part of the head-to-head competitiveness, the ability to face down the PGA Tour’s best, like Scottie Scheffler. Sunday’s Players Championship was the best golf of the season to date; how much better might it have been with Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith and other LIV stars in the mix?

“I'm fully aware of where Scottie is,” Rahm said, acknowledging his Ryder Cup singles rival and fellow golf alpha. “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.”

LIV’s limited schedule is having an impact in more tangible ways than just Rahm’s visibility. He will have five starts ahead of the Masters this year, as opposed to 2023’s eight. He’s hoping that it’s not necessarily worse, just different.

“Last year I didn't play the week before the Masters. This year I am [at LIV’s Miami event]. It's hard to say what's better or not. It's a little different,” he said. “I'm glad that this year we're going to a challenging golf course [Trump Doral Miami] before playing a major because that I think gets you prepped very, very well for a major tournament.”

Rahm will face a challenge unlike any player ever in golf history: returning to the Masters as a defending champion after having defected to another tour. (Cam Smith had the same situation at last year’s Open Championship; he finished a distant T33, 14 strokes behind winner Brian Harman.) Rahm hopes the reception he receives will be a warm one, even as he knows there will be bumps.

“So far I haven't had any bad experiences. I've seen other PGA Tour pros [since the move to LIV], and I haven't really seen anything bad,” he said. “I'm assuming there will be quite a few that are not happy and maybe our dynamics has changed, but … from my side, nothing changes. I still respect everybody on both sides and respect the game of golf above all.”

Going forward, Rahm hopes for some form of reunification, one way or another, and some form of team golf that can help bridge the gap between the two very different tours. To him, it’s a simple equation.

“I just want to be able to see the best in the world compete against the best in the world, whatever that looks like,” he said. “I think there's room for all of us, and there's room for the game of golf to get to the next level and have more viewership options.” He pointed to the superstructure of European soccer, which features an interwoven web of leagues and matches that all work together to spur interest in the game as a whole, as a possible future model for golf. (Not stated: the Saudi influence in European soccer is substantial and ever-increasing.)

No one is going to feel sorry for Rahm feeling a little sidelined. As always when addressing LIV players’ concerns, the most appropriate line is Don Draper’s “That’s what the money is for.” Still, golf fans will, and should, feel a sense of lost opportunity when Rahm tees it up alongside Scheffler in April. The best players competing against one another again … it doesn’t seem that hard to manage, and yet it gets more difficult with every passing month.