Jon Rahm arrived at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on Tuesday with a second major championship victory and a new green jacket.
The new Masters champion admits it’s going to be difficult to refocus after a marathon week at Augusta National Golf Club. That’s life in the new era of designated events on the PGA Tour. Spain’s new favorite son insists he’s focused on winning another jacket — a tartan one that is awarded to the RBC Heritage champion.
“I can promise you that every time I tee it up in a tournament, it’s going to be to win,” Rahm said during a news conference on Wednesday. “It may feel better or worse, but I intend to try my hardest to win. I still intend to hopefully do the jacket double and taking this one home.”
Rahm, who is once again ranked No. 1 in the world, said he received a voice message from Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal, who has 22 grand slam men’s singles titles of his own.
“I’ve seen him do unbelievable things, and I’ve texted him every time,” Rahm said. “He left me a very nice message.”
Where: Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Defending champion: Jordan Spieth
Purse: $20 million
No Rory: PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy withdrew from the field on Monday, two days after missing the cut at the Masters, where he had hoped to complete the career grand slam. The tour did not specify the reason for McIlroy’s withdrawal.
It will be the second designated event that McIlroy has missed — he also skipped January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawai’i. Under the tour’s new rules, he’s at risk of losing a chunk of his $12 million Player Impact Program bonus — as much as $3 million. Players ranked in the top 20 of PIP are required to attend 16 of the 17 designated events.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan could excuse McIlroy for injury, family emergency or “extraordinary circumstances.” But a tour official told ESPN that it has to be a legitimate reason for not playing.
Some players had expressed concerns about the designated events being mandatory, while others didn’t like having one immediately after the majors. Other players didn’t want them to be before a major when they typically take the week off to prepare. The Travelers Championship, another designated event with a $20 million purse, is the week after the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
“[T]here may be a little major letdown after the major, having a little lull coming into this week just because everyone gets so amped up for the Masters,” Patrick Cantlay told reporters in Hilton Head Island. “All in all, I don’t think it’s too big a deal, and a lot of guys prefer playing a couple weeks in a row as opposed to one week at a time. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good or a bad thing.”
Augusta National hangover: Rahm is the first Masters champion to compete in the RBC Heritage the next week since Spieth in 2015, who tied for 11th that year.
Rahm is attempting to become the first player to win in back-to-back starts including a major since McIlroy in 2014 when he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in consecutive starts.
It was a whirlwind 72 hours after he slipped on a green jacket in Butler Cabin. Between the rain delays and extended play on Sunday, followed by a dinner with Augusta National members, Rahm said he barely slept this past weekend. He also couldn’t wind down after the victory because of adrenaline. Rahm spent Monday in Augusta with his family before taking a short flight to Hilton Head Island.
Rahm admitted that he considered pulling out of the RBC Heritage as well.
“It did cross my mind, but I made a commitment earlier in the year, and I want to honor that commitment,” Rahm said. “I also, talking to [his wife] Kelley, I put myself in the shoes of not only the spectators, but the kids as well. If I was one of the kids, I would want to see the recent Masters champion play good or bad, just want to be there.
It’s another loaded field: Even without McIlroy and Jason Day, who also withdrew for undisclosed reasons, the RBC Heritage might have the best field in its history. It includes 38 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 28 of the top 30 in FedEx Cup points.
While Rahm and Scheffler used their length off the tee to win previous big events this season, Spieth says Harbour Town Golf Links is a different animal. Scheffler will be making his RBC Heritage debut.
“I think on a course like this, it’s going to be more unique than any of the ones that we’ve experienced in any of the elevated events so far because you have a course where it doesn’t matter about length,” Spieth said. “You just have to golf your ball around. It’s an advantage if you hit it far and straight, but you’ve got to take risks more than you do [at] other places if you want to try and keep hitting driver.
“It could be just such a massively bunched leaderboard of such big names, it’s got the potential to be as exciting an event as we’ve seen this year.”
Last season, Spieth missed the cut at Augusta National for the first time in his career, then defeated Cantlay in a playoff to win at Hilton Head Island the next week. Past RBC Heritage winners Branden Grace (2016), Jim Furyk (2015) and Graeme McDowell (2013) did the same.
What’s next on the LPGA Tour
Where: Hoakalei Country Club, Ewa Beach, Hawai’i
Defending champion: Hyo Joo Kim
Purse: $2 million
Three storylines to watch:
Here come the majors: The first major of the season, the Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas, is only a week away, so it’s not a completely loaded field in Hawai’i. Four of the top 10 and eight of the top 30 in the Rolex Women’s Golf Ranking are competing in Hawai’i.
Defending champion Kim, two-time LOTTE winner Brooke Henderson and Celine Boutier are among the highest-ranked players in the field.
“I love coming back to Hawai’i,” Henderson told reporters this week. “All the people are so nice and kind and the atmosphere is always really amazing. So beautiful everywhere you look, all the flowers, and looking out over the ocean is always really cool. And this golf course is very challenging with the wind, so hopefully put together four solid rounds and just see what happens.”
Getting ready for Pebble Beach: Bouiter and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka are among the players who have taken scouting trips to Pebble Beach Golf Links in recent weeks. It will be the site of the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time on July 6-9.
Hataoka, who is 13th in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, had a 7 a.m. tee time. It was the six-time LPGA Tour winner’s first trip to Pebble Beach.
“It wasn’t windy as I expected, but it was just [an] amazingly beautiful place to play golf,” Hataoka said.
Boutier was at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. The former Duke star wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It was just pretty amazing,” Boutier said. “I didn’t expect it to be that good. I thought it was just going to be like a public course, to be honest, with a view. But no, it was an amazing course, so really excited about having the U.S. Open there.”
Be like Jon: Spanish golfer Azahara Munoz, who has six worldwide victories, said Rahm is inspiring young golfers in their native country, just like Seve Ballesteros did for parts of three decades.
Rahm captured his second major and first green jacket on Sunday, on what would have been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday. The five-time major champion died of complications from a brain tumor in May 2011.
“I think it’s great,” said Munoz, who played at Arizona State like Rahm. “Obviously we all grew up watching Seve, but what Jon is doing, it’s tough to compare. It’s different people, different times. But what Jon is doing is even more than what Seve was doing, so I think it’s going to be incredible.
“I think so many young kids are going to grow up looking up to him because now he’s won two majors, No. 1 in the world, and I think the sky is the limit. He’s only going to get better and better.”
As the tours turn
The ongoing legal battle between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League hit a speedbump this week. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman reset the trial calendar because the sides continue to haggle over discovery and depositions. The trial is now scheduled to start on May 17, 2024, about four months later than originally planned.
Last week, Freeman ruled that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, are subject to discovery and depositions. PIF is funding the LIV Golf League and has dumped more than $2 billion into the breakaway circuit. Freeman set a discovery deadline of June 30.
Attorneys representing PIF and Al-Rumayyan have indicated they plan to appeal Freeman’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which will further delay the discovery process. If the Ninth Circuit agrees to take the appeal, it might take several years to resolve. The PGA Tour is expected to oppose the Saudis’ attempt to appeal the discovery order to the Ninth Circuit.
On Wednesday, Freeman dealt LIV Golf another legal blow when she denied its request to separate its federal antitrust claims from the PGA Tour’s counterclaim that LIV Golf had interfered with its contract with players.
Among other things, Freeman found “convincing the Tour’s argument that PIF and [Al-Rumayyan] may have information relevant to Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims and the Tour’s defenses to those claims.”
“The Tour contends that PIF and [Al-Rumayyan] may have evidence showing PIF and [Al-Rumayyan’s] efforts to negotiate broadcast contracts on LIV’s behalf,” Freeman wrote in the order. “The Tour supports this contention with documents it received in discovery from LIV. The Tour explains that this information is necessary to understand the reasons businesses gave for declining to do business with LIV and may be relevant to LIV’s alleged antitrust injuries, the alleged anticompetitive effects of the Tour’s conduct, the competitiveness of LIV’s product in the media marketplace, and potential antitrust damages.”
What’s next for LIV Golf?
The LIV Golf League’s season resumes April 21-23 at the Grange Golf Club in southern Australia, its debut event in the country. With Australians Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Matt Jones and Jed Morgan competing, LIV Golf says it is expecting a record crowd.
For the first time, fans will be permitted on the property for the pro-am on April 20. LIV Golf released a limited number of single-day tickets this week.
LIV golfers had a solid showing at the Masters, with Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed finishing in the top four and 12 of its 18 players competing at Augusta National making the cut (Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen withdrew).
At least nine LIV Golf players are expected to compete in the next major, the PGA Championship, which is scheduled May 18-21 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Past winners Mickelson, Koepka and Martin Kaymer have lifetime exemptions, and Smith, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson are in the field for having won one of the other majors in the past five years.
Mito Pereira, Abraham Ancer and Brendan Steele finished in the top 10 of the 2022 PGA Championship; the top 15 and ties are eligible to come back the next year.
Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Bernd Wiesberger would be eligible to play as participants in the most recent Ryder Cup, but none of them are ranked in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking, which is another requirement.
Several other LIV Golf players, including Joaquin Niemann, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed and Talor Gooch, could receive special exemptions from the PGA of America, which typically go to the top 100 in the OWGR.
The 156-player field will be finalized on May 10.