Aiden Konold ’26
On April 9th, 2023, Jon Rahm, despite four-putting his first hole of The 2023 Masters for a double bogey start, became the fourth Spaniard to win the tournament. Rahm is the second Spaniard to win The Masters since Sergio Garcia, who did so on the same date six years earlier. Rahm’s victory has entered him into the same conversations as Spanish golfer and five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros, who won the 1980 and ‘83 iterations of The Masters. Ironically enough, Rahm won his first Masters on the same day as what would have been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday if he were still alive. Rahm’s victory signifies something greater than his ascendancy back to number 1 according to the Official World Golf Rankings or his emergence as one of the greatest Spanish golfers of all time. Rahm’s first Masters’ victory has also quieted critics of the PGA Tour, who see LIV golfers as being able to compete with the stronger PGA field in the major championships. After the conclusion of The 2023 Masters, a LIV golfer has yet to win a major championship upon joining the PGA’s rival tour, though Brooks Koepka came close. The LIV Tour, wrought with controversy, has its problems aside from an inability to compete with PGA Tour stars in the major championships.
LIV’s prize funding comes from the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment fund. Saudi Arabia is a nation wrought with human rights abuses. Three time Masters’ champion Phil Mickelson was one of the first PGA Tour stars to leave for LIV. Mickelson said of Saudi Arabia in an interview with golf writer Alan Shipnuck, “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.” Mickelson was reportedly given $200 million to join LIV, on top of weekly guaranteed pay given LIV’s 48-man, no cut format. LIV golfers are concerned more with the money they will earn and the leverage they think they will gain over the PGA Tour than they are with the human rights abuses they are willingly financing through their LIV participation.
Since LIV started play in 2022, not a single member has won a major championship. In The 2023 Masters, though, three LIV golfers finished in the top 5. LIV golfer and four-time major championship winner Brooks Koepka held the 54-hole Masters’ lead, coming fresh off his first LIV Tour victory at Crooked Cat of the Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, FL. On the PGA Tour and in major championships unlike the LIV Tour’s 54 hole format, 72 holes are played, thankfully enough for Jon Rahm, the number 2 golfer in the world at the time. Though Rahm trailed Koepka by two strokes going into the final round on Sunday, Koepka, used to playing just 54 holes on the LIV Tour, seemed to be losing stamina.
52 year old Mickelson, though, did not seem to be impacted by the 72 hole major tournament format. Mickelson, who knows his way around Augusta rather well, came out firing, shooting a final round 65 (-7). This represented Mickelson’s best ever final round in the 30 Masters’ he has appeared in. Mickelson’s 65 led him to finish in a tie for second, at 8-under par for the week.
LIV golfer and 2018 Masters’ champion Patrick Reed shot up the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon, too, shooting a fourth round 68 (-4), good for a tie for fourth place. As Mickelson and Reed shot up the leaderboard on the final day, Koepka struggled to hold onto his lead.
Due to weather, the third round of play concluded on Sunday morning, the same day of the fourth round. Rahm, despite facing bad weather Friday and Saturday, played steady, breaking seventy every round aside from round 3, in which he shot a 1-over par 73. He still managed to shoot well enough to make it into Sunday’s final pairing with Brooks Koepka, whose momentum was fading. After an exceptionally well played first two rounds, shooting a 65 (-7) and 67 (-5) respectively, Koepka shot a third round 73 (+1), same as Rahm.
In his final round on Sunday paired with Rahm, Koepka looked tired. Though Koepka scored three birdies in his final round, he also scored six bogeys, for a final round 75 (+3), placing him with Mickelson in a tie for second. Rahm meanwhile took advantage of Koepka’s tired state. Once Rahm took the solo lead on the sixth hole, he never looked back, hitting safe, high probability shots, and scoring three birdies in the final twelve holes to go along with one inconsequential bogey on the ninth. After hitting a scary tee shot off eighteen, Rahm hit a provisional. To Rahm’s surprise, his original tee shot was located. He took the safe second shot, setting up an approach that he stuck within five feet of the pin for a one-putt par to cap his amazing weekend.
After such tremendous play, Rahm retook the number one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. Rahm’s Masters’ victory represents his second major championship to go along with his 2021 U.S. Open win at Torrey Pines. Rahm’s play, though, did more than just solidify his place as one of golf’s greatest stars. His victory has also helped give the PGA Tour leverage over LIV. Though Koepka made it close at The 2023 Masters, the 54-hole format of LIV seems to be keeping LIV golfers from competing at their best over a sustained period of time in major tournaments. Rahm has said of his continuing to play on the PGA Tour that he wants to “play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years.” As of now, the PGA Tour is still the format in which the best golfers come to compete on a weekly basis. Until a LIV golfer finally wins a major tournament, it is unlikely that LIV will take over the PGA’s position.
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