Lessons from the US Masters

  • Golf
  • Sunday, 16 Apr 2023

Reason to smile: Outgoing champion Scottie Scheffler (left) and Rahm in a light-hearted moment after the Spaniard’s emotional victory at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. — AP

JON Rahm’s victory at the US Masters last weekend was a special one, but not just because it was a major championship title – his second.

There were a few other reasons why this one stood out.

It was an emotional affair because Rahm celebrated his triumph on the same day that Seve Ballesteros, the inspirational Spaniard who twice won the Masters, was born in 1957.

It was equally important that two players, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, from LIV Golf, the PGA Tour’s rival, finished joint runners-up, clearly illustrating their standing as among the game’s best.

When Rahm dedicated his win to the man who won the Masters in 1980 and 1983, there was a lot of empathy in the air, and rightly so.

Ballesteros was one of the giants of world golf, and the fact that he added three British Open Claret Jugs to his resume merely underscored why so many players, young and old, and drawn from all walks of life, still see him as someone to hold in high regard.

Ballesteros, who set the record for the number of European Tour titles when he won 50, passed away in May 2011, having battled brain cancer.

One wonders what the lion-hearted Spaniard would have made of the animosity that exists between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. Seve never left to go and play in the United States like some of the new generation.

What we can be sure of, though, is that the player, who reportedly won 90 career international tournaments, would have wanted all the world’s top players to be there when he won, especially the at majors.

And that is why it was good to see Augusta National Golf Club, which runs the Masters independently of the US PGA Tour, invite all the players who deserved to be there on merit, be they PGA Tour players or otherwise.

Indeed, to win a major championship without the world’s best players in attendance would feel like nothing but a hollow victory.

Of course, there are some – and we know who they are – who would take a win like that and dash off, bragging about having won it, albeit in a tainted fashion and diluted field.

Rahm’s victory doesn’t sit under that cloud. His main threat at Augusta was, for a long time, Koepka, and when the sun set on an event that had play halted early on two days because of bad weather, Mickelson was also up there on the leaderboard, tied for second place.

Just to be sure, Mickelson has won the Masters three times (in 2004, 2006 and 2010) and has six major championship titles in total to his credit. The PGA Championship (2005 and 2021) and the British Open (2013) are included.

Keopka has four majors: the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships and the 2017 and 2018 US Opens.

LIV Golf had a third player in the top five, with Patrick Reed joint fourth. He won the Masters in 2018.

This brings us to the world ranking points. This system, which is used to some extent to determine who qualifies for the majors, does not award points for LIV Golf events.

It should be noted that LIV has appealed to the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) body to have their tournaments recognised and awarded points accordingly. However, they have snubbed the matter.

It was interesting to note that the European Tour’s chief operating officer, Keith Waters, said “they” were “not involved in it (the rankings), are not discussing it and will have no influence in the OWGR as far as LIV goes”.

This effectively meant that it was up to the four majors to decide if LIV Golf gets world ranking points.

Well, the US Open at Oak Hill Country Club from May 18 to 21 and run by the United States Golf Association, the PGA Championship at Los Angeles Country Club (North Course) from June 15 to 18 – the PGA of America’s highlight – and the British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, from July 20 to 23, which falls under the R&A in Scotland, have all indicated that on merit LIV players would be in their fields this season.

Here, time is of the essence. The longer LIV Golf is left out of the rankings, the more their players will drop down the pecking order at the majors.

And hence, when these players are left out, victories like Rahm’s will come to mean little or nothing.

They might mean a lot to players like Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who has bent over backwards trying to appease the American tour, coming out as their most vocal player/critic against the PGA Tour’s rival LIV Golf Series.

But the custodians of the majors, we believe, should know better. They will have seen firsthand, up close and personal, what a victory like Rahm’s means on the birthday of the great Seve Ballesteros.

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