Jon Rahm opted to name his LIV Golf team after Legion XIII, the Roman Empire unit which crossed the Rubicon under Julius Caesar. It was a fitting namesake because on Friday, Rahm crossed his own Rubicon.
As soon as the Masters champion teed it up in Mayakoba on Friday, his life on LIV’s side of the civil war began and the point of no return to the PGA Tour was officially passed.
Rahm, 29, had confessed his $500million LIV Golf defection was a ‘big risk to take’ ahead of his debut in Mexico earlier this week. But as his LIV career had liftoff on Friday, the gamble looked to have paid off.
The Spaniard made a fast start to life with LIV that rewarded both his and the breakaway’s big money moves within just one hole.
However, Rahm claimed following his round that he felt he had already crossed the divide earlier in the week, declaring Friday was ‘time to work’.
Jon Rahm made his LIV Golf debut at the breakaway’s 2024 season opener in Mexico on Friday
The Spaniard made a fast start to life with LIV that rewarded the breakaway’s big money move
LIV’s $500million man was given top billing with Greg Norman joining him on the first tee
Arguably, he had passed the point of no return long before this week. Rahm’s LIV revolution truly began back in December when its mega-money, offseason poach of the Masters champion had been declared a game-changer.
It was the move that heralded a new era of LIV, one where even the biggest – and previously loyalist – PGA Tour stars could eventually be lured away.
For so long, LIV had been the villain. On Friday, it finally had its hero – and it couldn’t wait to wheel him out.
Naturally, LIV’s $500million leading man had top billing, taking to the stage on the first tee for the 2024 curtain-raiser, alongside last season’s individual champion Talor Gooch and Cam Smith.
Fans began to gather around the tee box about half an hour before the 1.15pm ET shotgun start to book their seats for the premiere of LIV’s ‘Rahmaggedon’. And they were not left disappointed.
Within one hole, the breakaway had already got its bang for its multi-million-dollar buck as the two-time major winner opened his LIV career with a birdie.
The Spaniard went on to shoot five more through his opening nine holes, carding a five-under for the day to sit fourth.
‘I could feel the pressure, but it’s a good thing, right?’ Rahm admitted when asked how he felt stood on the first tee.
Rahm teed off alongside last season’s individual champion Talor Gooch and Cam Smith (left)
Fans began to gather around the tee box about half an hour before the 1.15pm ET shotgun start
Rahm opened his LIV career with a birdie before shooting four more on the front nine
‘It’s weird; you do get to pick a song for the first tee, and I thought maybe it was going to help. If anything, it gave it a little bit more — the heartbeat went a little bit up just from hearing a song you like. I feel confident, but the added pressure that it’s one of my favorite songs, but it helped because I hit a great tee shot to start the day.’
And to think, it almost didn’t happen. LIV’s season opener was thrown into chaos when it was reported that ‘half the field’ had been struck down with food poisoning. But the breakaway, as stubborn as its foray into the sport, plowed on.
LIV insisted that, despite ‘wildly exaggerated reports’, only a ‘couple’ of players felt ill and the Rahm show would go on.
And go on it did. However, it wasn’t Rahm in the spotlight. Instead, it was Joaquin Niemann who stole the show.
The Chilean scorched the Mayakoba course, shooting a 59 to record the second-lowest score in LIV history – one shot off Bryson DeChambeau’s record 58 at Greenbrier last year.
He fired a seven-under 28 through his opening nine holes, before he slammed it in for eagle on the 11th and birdied four more on the back nine to pull seven shots clear of Rahm in fourth with a total of 12-under for the day.
Rahm said in his post-round press conference that he would’ve put money on the fact that no one would have shot a 59 on El Camaleon this week. Following his own round, Niemann joked LIV’s new boy owed him money.
‘I wouldn’t think the same, either,’ he added. ‘I think the fairways are playing a lot tighter than they used to be. The rough is a lot trickier, too. It’s a little longer, and you’ve got a lot of different lies, which is tricky.
Joaquin Niemann shot a round of 59 to record the second-lowest score in LIV history
The Chilean and Torque captain fired a seven-under 28 through his opening nine holes
‘But man, I played amazing golf. Whenever I was hitting the ball, sometimes I was getting good lies, good bounces into the fairways, good numbers, so everything came out pretty good during the whole day.’
Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia, who had hailed his fellow Spaniard Rahm’s ‘exciting’ arrival, sat third, one shot behind Patrick Reed in second at seven-under.
Rahm could have had his share of third but he bogeyed the last two holes to drop to five-under.
But despite not finishing in the same fashion as he started, LIV’s $500m move for Rahm looks to have paid off with an opening round full of the quality the PGA Tour had been accustomed to from the Spaniard.
Yet, whether his own gamble is as rewarding remains to be seen.
‘I wanted to go down the warrior spirit mythology side for the team’s name,’ Rahm had said, while explaining his team name.
‘The term loyalty is very important for me – I think it embodies the warrior spirit through its decisiveness and ready-for-battle mindset. During the Roman Empire, there was the iconic Legion XIII Gemina in Caesar’s army. They believed in the credo of faithful loyalty.’
Sergio Garcia, sat third, one shot behind Patrick Reed in second at seven-under
The irony of Rahm’s value of loyalty just one month after abandoning the Tour he had once pledged fealty to was lost on no one. It laid bare the fact that Rahm has rolled the dice with his reputation and legacy at stake.
After Friday, his loyalty now belongs to LIV as Legion XIII’s was to Caesar, but he still wants it in part to belong to Europe too.
Rahm admitted earlier this week that he had put his Ryder Cup eligibility on the line with LIV’s lack of OWGR points likely leaving his presence at Bethpage in the hands of European captain Luke Donald.
Rory McIlroy certainly would endorse him but it will take more than playing to the level he did on Friday on the LIV breakaway alone. He’ll need to replicate it at the majors too.
If he can perform on the rebel circuit and golf’s biggest stages, then Rahm’s bid to have his cake and eat it, will surely be granted.