Jon Rahm far from unprepared ahead of Masters title defence

If Jon Rahm needed any reassurance that his shock move to LIV Golf would not harm his chances of winning more majors, he did not need to look hard for evidence.

After starting with a four-putt double bogey in last year’s Masters, Rahm ended up battling with Brooks Koepka in the final round and ultimately finishing four shots clear of Koepka and Phil Mickelson.

With Patrick Reed another shot behind in a tie for fourth it was a strong showing for the LIV contingent, who enjoyed even more bragging rights a month later when Koepka claimed his fifth major title in the US PGA.

So while it is undeniable that Rahm’s preparations for his Masters title defence are a world away from those of 12 months ago – three PGA Tour wins in eight starts compared to contesting just five 54-hole LIV events – there is little chance of the Spaniard being written off for being unprepared.

“I came in here last year thinking the same thing about all of the LIV players, the ones that potentially could win, and they proved me wrong,” two-time US Open champion and ESPN analyst Curtis Strange admitted.

“Two or three of them played really well. So I don’t think that’s a point any more.

“I expect Rahm to be ready to go. I think, because of what Rahm’s been through a little bit the last year, going over there, he might feel that he has a little bit more to prove.

“But he’s incredibly talented, great champion at the Masters. There’s no reason why he couldn’t be champion there again this year.”

Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm on the 13th hole during day one of the 2023 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (Zac Goodwin/PA)

The stars certainly seemed to align for Rahm last year, his victory coming on the 40th anniversary of his idol Seve Ballesteros claiming a second win at Augusta National and on what would have been his fellow Spaniard’s 66th birthday.

It even concluded with the kind of par on the 18th of which Ballesteros would have been proud, although Rahm still insists his tee shot into the trees, which meant his ball failed to even reach the fairway, was not as terrible as it looked.

“Out of all the great things that week, a lot of people remember the four-putt and the tee shot on 18, which wasn’t as bad as people think,” Rahm said with a smile.

“What stood out to me is I had this image in my mind of how great I played all week, which I did, and then I watch the actual summary and I couldn’t help to think, man, I missed a lot more shots than I thought I did.

“I guess it is a good lesson to have in mind, right? Not only that I could play better in theory but the fact that there’s a mental lesson there, that you’re going to miss shots and you just have to figure out how to minimise the damage.

“Going back to Sunday, it’s always very difficult to put into words. Very few times do I remember in any sporting event to have so many things line up to make something so memorable for a player.

“With it being Easter, with it being Seve’s birthday, with my caddie Adam and me registering as the 49th player and being 4/9, the actual date of April 9th, being the fourth Spaniard to win it, 10th Spanish major.

“Just a lot of little things that made it so much more special than what already winning the green jacket and being the Masters champion is.”

Speaking of special memories, Rahm’s came in the early hours of the morning following his victory, when he took advantage of his new status to access parts of the clubhouse which are usually off limits.

“I was there with my dad and [wife] Kelley in the clubhouse,” he explained.

“It’s one in the morning and I said if there’s a time to maybe get away with something it’s right now, so I asked, can we go to the champions locker room because I don’t know if they’re ever going to be able to go up there again. They said yes.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, to see people’s names on the lockers, to actually see the locker room.

“My dad and I walked out to the balcony looking down Magnolia Lane, what you could see of it in the pitch darkness. Somebody took a picture of my dad and I talking, me with the jacket on, and it’s one of the better pictures we have.

“I think it’s my dad’s or my mom’s WhatsApp picture, which is really cool to see, and then having Kelley up there for that as well, is special.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to recreate that again with any of them, but I’m really glad that they let us do that and they got to see the history of it.”