European Honors

Photography courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

The golf stars were aligned for the PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm over Augusta National Golf Club at the 87th Masters Tournament.

The Spaniard just didn’t realize it until he won by four shots over a pair of players from LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded rebel circuit that Rahm would shockingly join eight months later.

Omens that he would win were everywhere for Rahm, then 28 years old and the No. 3-ranked player in the world (he would move to No. 1 after the victory).

The first one came the day he stepped on the Augusta National property in the days preceding the opening round, starting when he registered at Tournament Headquarters.

Participants are given their player badge number (which is also displayed on the front on their caddie’s jumpsuit) based on the order in which they register.

Rahm was the 49th player to register. Broken down into month (April) and day (the ninth) that was the birthday of trail-blazing Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who won the Masters twice.

That wasn’t all.

That would be the beginning of multiple Spanish connections involving Ballesteros and even another Spaniard, Sergio García.

The final round would also fall on the 40th anniversary of Ballesteros’ last Masters victory. And like Rahm, Ballesteros won by four shots that year.

Also, the last time the Masters finished on April 9, it was won by García, in 2017.

“There’s so many things that made it special in that sense.”

jon rahm
Photo of Jon Rahm and his caddy at Augusta National Golf Club. Photo by Simon Bruty/Augusta National Golf Club.
Jon Rahm of Spain crosses Nelson Bridge on No. 12 during the final round of the 2023 Masters.

“There’s so many things that made it special in that sense,” Rahm said after the victory.

Rahm is the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters. In all, Spain has won 10 Green Jackets, second-most of any country other than the United States. South Africa has nine.

“There’s got to be something here about having a Spanish passport, I don’t know, there’s something about the grounds that transmits into all of us,” Rahm said.

He also became the first European to have won both the U.S. Open and the Masters.

“I find it hard to believe,” said Rahm, who was unaware of the feat until it was brought up at his post-victory press conference. “If there’s anything better than accomplishing something like this, it’s making history. So the fact that you tell me that, to be the first-ever — first European ever to do that, hard to explain. Out of all the accomplishments and the many great players that have come before me, to be the first to do something like that, it’s a very humbling feeling.”

Photo of Jon Rahm. Photo by Simon Bruty/Augusta National Golf Club.
Jon Rahm of Spain plays a stroke from the No. 3 tee during practice round #1 at Augusta National Golf Club

Once a Spaniard won the Masters, it was never long before it happened again. Ballesteros started it all in 1980. Three years later, he won again.

“This one’s for Seve,” said Rahm, who was 16 years old when Ballesteros died in 2011 at age 54. Rahm met Ballesteros once, when Rahm was 12 years old.

After José María Olazábal won in 1994, he did it again five years later. The latest break between Spanish wins was six years, from García in 2017 until Rahm in 2023.

“I think the main thing, something that gave me a lot of hope, and that kind of started when Sergio won in ‘17, is that pretty much every great-name Spanish player has won here,” Rahm said.

Olazábal and García both missed the cut in the 2023 Masters, and Olazábal stuck around on the weekend. He was there to congratulate Rahm after he came off the 18th green in the final round.

“I can’t quite remember what we said,” Rahm said. “He said he hopes it’s the first of many more. We talked about Seve. If it had been 10 seconds more, I think we both would have been crying.”

It was no surprise Rahm was among the leaders all tournament long, considering the way he’d been playing heading into the Masters.

He started the season with seven consecutive top-10 finishes, three of which were victories. Likewise, in 2022, Scottie Scheffler had three wins before the Masters and he went on to make the Masters his fourth win of the season.

Then there was Rahm’s Masters record.

In six previous Masters starts, Rahm had excelled almost every time. He was fourth in 2018, tied for ninth in 2019, tied for seventh in 2020 and even tied for fifth in 2021 despite arriving on Wednesday, the day before the tournament, after the birth of his first child the previous Saturday. He finished tied for 27th in his Masters debut in 2017, and had that same finish in 2022.

Logan Whitton/Augusta National Golf Club
Masters champion Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates after winning the final round of the 2023 Masters

For all his success at Augusta National, though, Rahm had never been in the mix to win over the final few holes on Sunday.

“To come somewhere where I’ve been comfortable and how great I’ve done here in the past but never gave myself a chance to win … all I asked for was a chance, and I got it.”

He took full advantage of it, shooting 65- 69-73-69 to finish at 12-under 276. He had just one bogey in the final round.

It didn’t look like it was going to be Rahm’s week on the opening hole of the tournament when he four-putted for double bogey. Only Sam Snead, in 1952, had gone on to win after making double bogey on the first hole of the opening round.

“It brings out the fight in you,” said Rahm’s caddie Adam Hayes, who helped Rahm play his final 17 holes that day in 9 under par for the 65.

As he made his way around the course during Sunday’s final round, Rahm had the gallery on his side. Word had trickled down about the Ballesteros’ connections.

“The support was pretty incredible all throughout, and I kept hearing, ‘Seve! Seve! Seve! Do it for Seve!’ I heard that the entire back nine,” Rahm said. “That might have been the hardest thing to control today, is the emotion of knowing what it could be if I were to win.”

Ballesteros, never the best driver, was famous for his scrambling style golf, including the birdie he made from a car park in the final round of the 1979 British Open, which he won.

Fittingly, Rahm closed out his Masters victory with what he called a “Seve par” on the 72nd hole. Off the tee on the par-4 18th hole, Rahm hit his drive into the grove of trees left of the fairway. The ball hit a tree and bounced backward, into the fairway, leaving him 236 yards to the hole. He layed up to 68 yards, and followed that with a wedge shot to 4 feet from the hole.

Then came that famous walk up the hill to the 18th green. Rahm, in the final group of the day, led by four shots so the jacket was his on the first Easter Sunday final round at the Masters in 11 years.

“Obviously we all dream of things like this as players, and you try to visualize what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like,” Rahm said. “And when I hit that third shot on the green, and I could tell it was close by the crowd’s reaction, just the wave of emotion of so many things just overtook me. Never thought I was going to cry by winning a golf tournament, but I got very close on that 18th hole. And a lot of it because of what it means to me, and to Spanish golf, right?”

Rahm held his emotions together long enough to knock in the 4-footer for par to cap off his round.

“It was an unusual par – a Seve par,” Rahm said. “I know he was pulling for me.”

“Congrats to Jon,” said Rahm’s final- round playing partner Brooks Koepka (75 on Sunday) who tied for second place with 52-year-old Phil Mickelson (65). “He’s been playing great; it was super awesome to see. A Green Jacket is pretty special, so enjoy.”

Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, came from way back in the pack to tie for second place, thanks to the 65, the low score of the final round. It was also the lowest final round by any golfer over 50 in Masters history.

Mickelson and Rahm both went to Arizona State, and Mickelson has been a mentor to Rahm. In fact, Mickelson’s current caddie, his brother Tim, was Rahm’s golf coach at Arizona State University.

“The first time I played with him we played Whisper Rock, and he shot 62,” Mickelson said of Rahm. “And I thought I played pretty good, and he gave me a pretty good beat- down. So I am not surprised at his success. I mean, it was obvious to me at a very young age that he was one of the best players in the world even while he was in college. To see him on this stage is not surprising for anybody. It’s hard not to pull for Jon, too. He’s such a good guy. He has such a great heart and treats people so well. I think the world of him as a person. And as a player, that’s obvious, how good he is.”

Rain and cold was in the forecast before the tournament started, which would mean some long days between weather delays. That played into Rahm’s hands.

“I told him the most athletic and most adaptable guy will win this week,” his caddie, Hayes, had told his boss.

Indeed, because of weather delays in the first three days of the 2023 Masters, a marathon final round would be needed to get in 72 holes. On Sunday, Rahm spent more than seven hours on the Augusta National course. When it was over, he had completed 30 holes and rallied from two shots back of Koepka after 54 holes.

Masters champion Jon Rahm of Spain speaks to members of the media during a press conference following the final round of the 2023 Masters.

“I’m just witnessing what he’s capable of, what he wants,” said Hayes, who has been on Rahm’s bag since June 2016. “He’s not done. He’s going to win a lot of tournaments.”

After it was over, Rahm was so overcome he was almost in a daze during the winner’s news conference. An electronic scoreboard to his left in the media center showed the final leaderboard, hole by hole.

“Still really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Rahm said. “I’m looking at the scores, and I still think I have a couple more holes left to win.”

After that press conference, Rahm was surprised to learn that there is a traditional dinner for the champion and his guests with Augusta National members in the clubhouse. Rahm knew there was something with the members but had thought it was “just a cocktail party.”

The week after the Masters, Rahm earned even more respect from the golf world by honoring his commitment to play in the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, S.C. He was the first Masters champion to play the following week since Jordan Spieth did it at the Heritage in 2015.

“It did cross my mind [to withdraw],” Rahm said. “But I made a commitment earlier in the year, and I want to honor that commitment. Talking to Kelley (his wife), 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.”

Rahm made a point to say he was playing to win, not show up as the newly-crowned Masters champion. He had his Green Jacket with him and said he wanted to accomplish a “jacket double” by also winning the tartan jacket that goes to the Heritage winner. Only Bernhard Langer, in 1985, had pulled off that feat.

Seen in the April 2024 issue of Augusta magazine.

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