March 7, 2023
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA
THE MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Jon Rahm, world No. 1 and FedExCup leader Jon Rahm to the PLAYERS Championship media center. Jon, welcome, making your sixth start. Want to start off with some opening comments on what it's like to be back here at Sawgrass.
JON RAHM: It's always great to be back here. It's a great week, great venue. The PGA TOUR goes above and beyond for us to have as enjoyable a week as possible. Then the golf course, which is always a test. I love courses we go to where nobody has been able to assert a dominance, right. I think that speaks a lot to the design and speaks to the fact that the best player wins. One of those weeks where you've just got to show up and be the best.
THE MODERATOR: Perfect. With that we'll open it up to questions.
Q. In your first event here six years ago you had a bad day. I'm sure you remember well. Rory said after that round that you had -- that when you learned to channel your passion and energy the right way that your ceiling will be reached. Could you talk a little bit about how much your game has evolved from a maturity standpoint and learning to rein in your emotions the right way.
JON RAHM: Well, I mean, it was six years ago, right. So I was a young 22-year-old at the time. I had turned pro and played really good and reached the top 10 in the world very, very quickly. With that came a level of attention that you can't get ready for. So a lot of that was an adjustment period to what being a top golfer in the world is like and feels like.
So I think a lot of those things go hand-in-hand and go together. Then a lot of it is maturing as a person and just having those experiences and learning from them, trying to be better.
We all have our deficits on the golf course. For the most part of my career as a golfer, being angry on the golf course has helped big time. But sometimes it's been a detriment, and it's been a couple times on the biggest stages that it has been a detriment. So just learning that a little bit. It's experience and maturity, obviously. It's life lessons. It's learning in life. For me, it's a work in progress always. It's something I need to deal with on the golf course pretty much every time. It's been getting better. It's getting better, and hopefully it will keep getting better.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about how much a golfer's personal life also helps in that maturity process, whether it's getting married, becoming a father, because other players have always talked about that as well?
JON RAHM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think what happens outside the golf course obviously is going to massively impact what happens on the golf course. I always said I played my best golf when I'm happy. I'm not happy because I'm playing my best golf. So a lot of what I've done to improve personally has been outside the golf course, and that directly correlates to what happens on the course.
Q. You've been pretty consistent in saying that you're opposed to a blanket exclusion for other players from Ryder Cup. There's been a lot of talk about the defending champion not being here this week. Would you also be in favor of maybe an exemption for defending champions to play in events like this?
JON RAHM: (Smiling.) I mean, yes and no. I feel like as defending champion you've earned a right. But we're talking about a very unique circumstance in the world of golf, right. I've always thought on those selective events that you need to qualify, CJ Cup, for example, if you were to win, you should automatically be into next year's CJ Cup to defend the tournament. That's my belief, that defending champions should always be there.
We're talking about different circumstances right now. Some players made a choice of going to a different golf league knowing that they weren't going to be allowed to play here. And yes, this is a massive event. It is very close to major quality event, but it's still a PGA TOUR event.
So with that regard, no. Like he's -- I don't think just him should be allowed to be here.
Q. You've been on such an incredible run this year, and then last week you shoot 7-under the first round, kind of struggle the next three days. When that happens, is it just flush and treat it like a fluke?
JON RAHM: Three days? Come on, two days. I shot even par the last day. It's not an easy golf course.
Q. By your standards, even par is --
JON RAHM: I moved up on the leaderboard. That was pretty good, I think.
Q. Do you just kind of flush it out, or is there something swing-wise that you're working to try to address?
JON RAHM: No, it's not really a big deal. I hit five shots in the water, four of them off the tee, and pretty much all of them were very, very close to being on dry land. So it would be very easy for me to overthink it and think that something needs to change. If I were to eliminate most of those shots, we're talking about close to top 20. It's shoulda-coulda-woulda, right? But had I been playing at Riv or Torrey or at a different golf course but all of those shots would have been in play, I could have managed my game around.
But we're talking about a golf course where it's very, very difficult. If you don't even have your best -- even at your best, it's going to be difficult to shoot an under-par score. We all saw the leaders struggle on the back nine, right. So no, it's things that happen. It's the game of golf.
I think when things are going so well for so long, the golf gods decide to humble you a little bit, and it took -- you know, it was my turn to suffer that for a couple days. But I came on Sunday, finished really strong over the last seven holes. I played really good seven holes from 12 to 18. I was really happy about that. So just keep on going. There's nothing, nothing to look into, really. It's golf and a couple bad days.
Q. For years this tournament has been known as having the strongest and deepest field in golf. How do you distinguish it now between Bay Hill last week or some of the designated events going forward except for the extra cash?
JON RAHM: It's not going to be as big a gap as it maybe has been in the past. I think because of choices, and people may think of opting out of some of those designated events, but nobody's going to opt out of this one. I think there is a difference between strictly World Ranking points, money and FedExCup points and then the legacy that a tournament has. I mean, winning this event is a big step forward to a Hall-of-Fame career. You are THE PLAYERS Champion. Arguably as close as you can get to being a major champion without officially being one.
So I think that the magnitude of the event and the golf course that comes with it, when you come down the stretch and you play those final, what is it, we can include 13, depending upon pin position, but 14 through 18 are no joke. If you can get through that and become the champion, it's a very unique tournament and a very unique championship. It is our championship. So I think that's what makes it different to some of the other events.
Q. A quick follow-up, how would you distinguish the three-hole closing stretch in terms of difficulty and excitement this week and last?
JON RAHM: Oh, man. Well you get par-5, par-3, tough par-4. I think both of them depend drastically on the wind direction. If you get 17 and 18 downwind, in either one of them, the par-5 would be into the wind, but I would rather have a par-5 into the wind and play 18 downwind and be able to not have to hit a driver or 3-wood off the tee and still have a wedge in my hand. So it all depends on wind conditions.
I mean, if I had have guessed I would think these last three would play a little bit more difficult than Bay Hill. Now, if we have the green conditions we had at Bay Hill in this tournament, I don't know if you could hit the green on 17 downwind. I don't know that it's possible. These three would be a lot more difficult. I think in equal conditions, these would be tougher.
Q. What is the distinctive thing about this tournament? When you hear its name or you see it, what immediately pops to mind?
JON RAHM: The first thing that pops to mind is the old trophy because I still have the old crystal memory, right. To me that's still THE PLAYERS Championship trophy for some reason. I don't know why.
But I get highlights of things that have happened in the past out here. Obviously famous one Tiger 2001 making that putt on 17. A couple of highlights of winners, obviously Adam hitting two in the water on 18 and winning. A couple that I've lived myself, Rory's drive on 18. Just memories and shots that I've seen over the years. Jason Day's 2-iron on 18, as well, and how difficult the greens were that year. There's many different things that come to mind. Nothing really special except the old trophy, for some reason.
Q. At this point you and Max Homa have been far ahead of the pack for the FedExCup race, and you've been together on the leaderboard for so much of the year. One-two at Genesis Invitational, Europe, U.S., Pac-12 connections. To what degree does this week feel like an opportunity to not only win your first PLAYERS but also further stamp your mark on 2023 in golf and extend your lead atop the rankings?
JON RAHM: I mean, I would just focus on the win itself and just being THE PLAYERS champion. I've had my opportunity and didn't take advantage of it, so I would love to have it again. Like I said, it's a big deal. It's a big event, right. Hopefully when my career is said and done, I'm one of those players that can call themselves a PLAYERS champion.
Q. Curious about what do you see as your favorite hole on this course and what do you see as the most, I mean like the least favorite or most challenging hole?
JON RAHM: I wouldn't know statistically which one is the most challenging. It goes a bit to what I told Doug. I think the wind direction changes things quite a bit. So there's some holes that play incredibly difficult with one wind, when you're into the wind or side wind, obviously everything's a little bit easier downwind.
I wouldn't know what to say with my favorite. I think 14, 15 are two not lengthy holes, because they're not the longest, but always play difficult. I don't think I've ever been in a group where somebody birdied both of them. You don't see it very often. But you see mistakes happen very often.
I would say that it's hard to beat that 16, 17 area. It's sort of like their own version of the Amen Corner. And the hardest, I think, by far usually tends to be 18, at least in my mind. It's a tough tee shot where you don't really have a bailout. You just have to suck it up and put it in the fairway, and that takes care of a lot of things, but that second shot is still no joke.
Q. What do you think if anything has to happen in Europe to ensure that the tour there isn't left behind with all the changes and enhancements to the tour over here?
JON RAHM: Well, I'm going to leave that to the people in charge of the strategic alliance. My job is to play, not to decide what happens. Obviously they're making changes here to keep up with the times, and I'm hoping they can make the necessary changes in Europe to improve that tour as well.
Q. How would you characterize the player meeting this morning and just in general the feeling around the changes?
JON RAHM: I wasn't at the player meeting, so I'm sorry, I can't answer that. Listen, when they told me it was at 7:30, and I didn't really have anything else to do until 10:00, I was going to take my time to be with my kids in the morning. I wasn't sleeping; I was playing with my kids.
So I haven't spoken to anybody. I know it was quite lengthy, but I don't really know what happened. And I don't even know who was there or who wasn't.
Q. In general, do you get a sense that most of the TOUR players are pretty unified around the changes or that there's a lot of mixed opinions?
JON RAHM: I think -- actually I can't answer that because I haven't spoken to a large majority of the membership. I haven't had anybody coming to me disappointed about the changes, right. I think other people are getting that side of things. But a lot of people don't like change at first.
I can see the logic in what they are disapproving of, but I think in the long run once you take a step back and you realize it truly is the best for everybody, it's the best product for the PGA TOUR, I think they will understand. But I really -- I really can't say much on the matter because nobody has come to me asking my opinion.
Q. Do you feel like your voice was heard though when you complained about having to play all the designated events, and what do you think is the right number? What do you think you'll play next year?
JON RAHM: Well, I wasn't the only one thinking that. I was just the first one to say it to the media. And, again, I am okay with sacrificing the freedom we've had until now or some of the freedom we've had until now for the greater good of the TOUR. But a hundred percent of our freedom, just being our schedule being told exactly this is what you have to play was a big change right away, at least because I mainly found out through media. That's kind of how I found out. That was not what I had in mind.
But I think there needs to be a give-and-take between the players and the TOUR. It can't all be one-sided tours and players and what management thinks is the best, right. That's kind of where it there needs to be a give-and-take. It's okay if we have to play some of them, but I do like to -- I would like to have the freedom, because there's some events I that won't always be designated that some of us like to play. Like I love going to Torrey Pines, and if it's ever not designated, I will be going to Torrey Pines, right. Same with other events, and I think a lot of people think the same way with other ones, not to speak of possibly sponsor commitments players may have with other tournaments.
So to be able to have that freedom to still play what we want to play I think is necessary for all of us.
Q. What would you say is the right number of PGA TOUR events for you, given family and wanting to go play some in Europe?
JON RAHM: It's tough for me because, again, we're adding European Tour into the mix, right, because I always go play in Europe some of those events. So I don't know. I think I'm playing in this calendar year until August, I'm playing 19, which is exactly what I did last year. I think it's a good number for me.
It's just this year because of the, you know, without having the ability to make changes on the schedule, for me it's going to be very, very busy until the Travelers Championship, and then after that I'll have some freedom. So if I were to, if you could schedule in a way where we have more time off in between tournaments, like a two-on, two-off type deal, I think I'm okay with playing 19, 20. I don't know where other people are at.
Since I've had to go to Europe, I've been playing 25, 26 for five, six years. So for me it would be playing a little bit less, which would be nice. But that's a question for more the membership than just me.
Q. I was just wondering in terms of some of the policies and the policy changes that are happening right now on the PGA TOUR, and there have been a lot of changes since the litigation began with LIV Golf, I'm wondering if -- and then there has been some discussion about this among golf watchers, about how some of the changes might potentially push some of the PGA TOUR players to maybe considering moving to LIV, so I was just wondering even with the designated events with no cuts, policies like that, if folks are unhappy, do you think they would be emboldened to look at other options like LIV Golf?
JON RAHM: If you're not happy with the product, they're free to do as they choose. I wouldn't know what to say. I still think that the PGA TOUR gives the best -- is the best platform for professional golfers. Obviously they're very different products and they differ in a lot of things. But it's not the same.
So it could happen, but like I've said before, I'm not one to tell people what to do with their life and with their career. I do think the changes that are happening are very positive, very, very positive. It's only going to make it so, you know, the better players in the world play together more often, which at the end of the day is what the fans want to see. So I wouldn't know how to answer that exactly.
Q. What do you think is actually causing the PGA right now to look inward and to make all of these changes? Is there some sort of factor or moment in time that is sort of creating that?
JON RAHM: Oh, it's LIV Golf. I mean, without a doubt. Without LIV Golf, this wouldn't have happened. So to an extent, like I've said before, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA TOUR want to change things. I think I said it last week, as well; I wish it didn't come to the PGA TOUR being, you know, under fire from somebody else to make those changes and make things better for the players, but I guess it is what we needed. So, yeah, it is because of LIV Golf, otherwise we wouldn't have seen any of this.
Q. You had said earlier that there needs to be a give-and-take between the players and the TOUR. Why is it that you don't feel like you're the TOUR?
JON RAHM: I mean we are the TOUR, but I have no clue what any of the contracts or the tournaments and TV contracts or any of that says means or could entail, right. So I can't go as a player to a meeting with the PGA TOUR and I say, I demand all those things by tomorrow, because it may not be possible.
That's exactly what I mean. It's easier to sell. It was easier this year to sell all these tournaments to put up more money and make those events the designated events, guaranteeing that all those golfers were going to be in every single one of those events except one. That's what I mean that there needs to be certain give-and-take. If you're asking every single player on TOUR what they want and try to implement it, God knows what would happen. So that's kind of what I mean.
As players there needs to be an understanding that not everything we want is possible, and maybe for all those things to happen, we need to give up a couple things that maybe are not as important as we think they are for us. That's what I mean.
Q. One last thing. Mickelson back in the day used to talk about transparency. Do you feel like there's enough communication going back and forth between yourself and the TOUR for you to be able to adequately say what you would like to see done?
JON RAHM: That's a tricky question because I don't know when Phil said that. Obviously there's been some of us that have had more knowledge of certain things than the rest of the TOUR. Do I think that's right? Not necessarily, no. But it's happened way too many times where you if you let information run out that shouldn't get to the media, it always gets to the media. Then the problem is maybe that information is important to some tournaments, and I wouldn't want to be a tournament director or a sponsor finding this out through somebody else that isn't either Jay Monahan or somebody on the PGA TOUR.
So that's the reason for some of this communication being a little bit different. But I do agree a little bit with that stance, yeah. I think in general, a lot of times it could be a little bit more clear with why things are done or when things are done.
But I think that's what this player meeting was all about. Just letting the membership know. Again, like I just said, it's tricky because you can't just make everybody aware of everything at all times, because it always get out, and you don't necessarily want that private information to get out.
THE MODERATOR: That's all time we have for questions. Thank you for taking the time.
JON RAHM: Thank you.
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