Jon Rahm didn’t like having to return the US Open trophy as his one-year custody of the two-handle winner’s silver award came to an end.
While Rahm has noted that he feels less pressure at major championships since winning the US Open and desperately wants to defend his title and bring the trophy back to Scottsdale once again, he spent most of his pre-tournament press conference answering to questions about the current conflict between the PGA Tour and the new LIV Golf Series.
“I feel sorry for Jay Monahan,” Rahm said of the PGA Tour commissioner in his first response to a question about the renegade circuit. “If you look at his time as a commissioner, he had to deal with COVID and now this. I don’t know if he signed up for all of this or not.
“I think the PGA Tour has done an amazing job giving us the best platform to perform on. I see the appeal that other people see for LIV Golf. I see some of the – I’ll put this delicately – points or arguments that they might make about why they prefer it. To be honest, part of the (LIV) format isn’t really appealing to me. Shotgun three days for me is not a golf tournament, blunt. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that has lasted hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.”
When the money issue was raised, Rahm said he understood why it would appeal to certain players, but that it wasn’t a big selling point for him, and added that he and his wife discussed the matter as the Saudis threw big dollars at names of golf awning.
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“Will our lifestyle change if I get $400 million? No, it won’t change one bit,” she said. “Truth be told, I could retire now with what I’ve done and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I never played 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 now the PGA Tour has that.
“There is meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There is meaning when you win the Arnold Palmer event at Bay Hill. There’s meaning when you win, LA, Torrey, some of the historic sites. That matters a lot to me, right? After winning this last US Open, only Tiger and I won at Torrey Pines, and it’s a golf course we enjoy, putting on the 18th hole. That’s a memory I will have forever that few people can tell. My heart goes out to the PGA Tour. That’s all I can say.”
Rahm’s biggest concern is the future of the Ryder Cup, which could be overhauled if players who defected to LIV Golf are banned from competing.
Jon Rahm addresses the media during a press conference for the US Open golf tournament at the Country Club. Mandatory credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
“I think the Ryder Cup is the biggest attraction the game of golf has to bring in new people,” Rahm said. “I hope we don’t lose the essence and the look that is the Ryder Cup. That’s one of my biggest concerns, to be honest. It’s an event we all play for free, and it’s one of our favorite weeks, win or lose. I think that says a lot about the game and where I would like it to be.”
These questions may not be answered for some time, but by Sunday we should know whether Rahm’s title defense lived up to his expectations. Rahm was on the trophy hunt at the British Open, fought to the finish before coming close to Patrick Cantlay for the FedEx Cup crown and won the Mexican Open in Vidanta against a watered-down field on May 1.
“I don’t know if we saw much of him. He played well, but definitely not Jon Rahm’s standard. He definitely went down a little bit,” said NBC golf analyst Paul Azinger.
But Azinger also learned everything he needed to know about Rahm’s gut guts from the way he birdieted the final two holes last year at Torrey Pines to win the US Open from a string of contenders vying for the title.
“That tournament was played. Really, any number of tremendous players could have won that tournament. If you go back and look, Bryson’s been there for a while. So it looked like Rory McIlroy and then Oosthuizen,” said Azinger. “For Rahm to come out on top and the way he did under the circumstances with all those great players there, the enormous pressure on Rahm, it was a big step for him as a man and as a player to draw those two. putts at the end of the golf tournament. And doing that kind of short game — which is never his strength — but doing that kind of short game showing there at the US Open and holding that trophy was a real battle of nerves and will.”
While Rory McIlroy proved at the RBC Canadian Open that defending a national title can be done, Justin Thomas’s playoff win last month in the PGA Championship extended a streak in which eight different players have won the previous eight major professional golf championships. Brooks Koepka had already won four of the nine major championships played, including back-to-back US Opens in 2017 and 18 in that span and the PGA in 2018 and 19.
“Usually you go to the same venue, it’s something you’re familiar with,” Rahm said of one of the unique challenges of trying to defend the US Open. “It’s a bit of an odd factor defending a tournament on a golf course and no one has really played in almost – since the Ryder Cup (1999) really, right? It’s a little different, but looking forward to it.”
Rahm said the USGA gave him a highlights video from last year’s triumph, as well as a roll that contained all 278 of his photos, and he studied it often. If Rahm learned anything from his win a year ago, it’s that golf isn’t a perfect game.
“I remember watching my Sunday highlights from last year, and I thought I played one of the best rounds of my life, and I kept thinking, I can’t believe how many fairway bunkers I hit that day, how many greens I missed and how many many shots I missed,” he said. “You know, it’s golf, and that’s the way it is. You really don’t have to play perfect, and I think that’s the best lesson I can take from that.”