Jon Rahm just finished the BMW PGA Championship, the DP World Tour's flagship event, like a man hellbent on sending a message.
It all stems, as everything in golf seems to these days, with the PGA Tour vs. LIV battle. You'll recall that some LIV Golfers sought a temporary restraining order to continue playing on the PGA Tour—a request that was denied by a judge in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (The case will move to trial in 2024). But a group of LIV players were successful in getting a British court's permission to continue playing on the DP World Tour, and they're taking advantage of that ruling. Because they're shut out of the PGA Tour, and because LIV Golf does not offer world ranking points, DP World Tour events offer the LIVers a precious opportunity to rack up some points—which are still the currency of pro golf, as the majors use the Official World Golf Ranking as a chief criterion for qualifying for majors.
So, a bunch of LIV guys played in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth this week. Seventeen to be exact. Some of those have played the DP World Tour for decades and have made plenty of starts at the BMW Championship. Sergio Garcia is among this group. So are Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Richard Bland, to name a few. But others are playing this week despite not showing much interest in the DPWT or the BMW PGA Championship in the past. Billy Horschel called them out by name: Abraham Ancer and Talor Gooch, to name two. Rahm, who's actually been softer on the LIV issue than some other top PGA Tour players—he said at the Open Championship that he thought they should be allowed to play in the Ryder Cup, and that he hoped all parties would come to the negotiating table—seemed to agree with Horschel.
"What I do not agree with is those names that have never expressly shown their support or interest in the European Tour or in the event to be able to attend," Rahm told reporters earlier in the week. “It's a bit more personal this time for me because the first name out of this tournament is a Spanish player, Alfredo Garcia—a great friend of mine who has played 20 European events this year.
"You have other people who, I'm not going to name anyone, but are here just for the ranking points to finish in the top 50 and play certain tournaments.For me there is the error. There are certain players who do deserve to be here because they have at least shown some interest in the European Tour.”
Rahm suggested that Garcia was among those who deserved to be at Wentworth, though you do have to wonder how he felt about Garcia's actions of the past few days. The 42-year-old looked destined to miss the cut after opening with a four-over 76 on Sunday, but he never let it get that far. Garcia withdrew after play was halted on Thursday due to the passing of the Queen. He did not give a reason for his withdrawal, and he was then seen looking spry on set at ESPN's College GameDay at the University of Texas on Saturday. (He lives in Austin). Garcia is also set to play in next week's LIV event outside Boston, which would mark his third consecutive week playing a tournament. According to European golf writers, the reaction to the move on-site at Wentworth was...not great.
We can't say for certain how Rahm felt, and he's unlikely to ever chastise his boy in public—but if the LIV guys' presence (or, in Sergio's case, the lack thereof) ticked him off at all, he responded in the perfect way: with an astonishing round of golf. Rahm finished birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot 29 on the back nine and 10-under 62 at Wentworth, a fact made even more impressive by the fact that the back nine at Wentworth plays to a par-37. Yes, he shot eight under on his last nine of the event…despite a bogey on the par-4 15th. Rahm made five birdies and two eagles on his back nine, punctuating it with a slippery 21-foot downhill eagle putt at the last to post 16 under and set the clubhouse target. Whether it holds up remains to be seen—Shane Lowry was closing hard and had cut the lead to one by the time of publish—but that round must've felt rather cathartic for Rahm, especially after a disappointing PGA Tour season by his standards.