‘A very successful start’: Jon Rahm details his pressure-filled LIV Golf debut

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico —Teeing it up on Mayakoba’s El Camaleón Golf Course may seem like nothing new for Jon Rahm given his three previous appearances on the Riviera Maya on the PGA Tour from 2014-2016, but the Spaniard felt the nerves on Friday as he made his LIV Golf debut.

“Yeah, I could feel the pressure, but it’s a good thing, right?” said Rahm, who fired a 5-under 66 to sit T-4 one shot behind Sergio Garcia, two shots behind Patrick Reed and a whopping seven shots behind Joaquin Niemann after his historic 12-under 59. “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’m like, I feel confident, but the added pressure that it’s one of my favorite songs,” Rahm said of Bad Bunny’s hit track, Monaco, “but it helped because I hit a great tee shot to start the day. I felt it, but after the tee shot and the second shot and making that putt, it felt like I settled in pretty nicely.”

That’s putting it lightly. Starting on the first hole alongside Cam Smith (Ripper GC) and Talor Gooch (Smash GC) Rahm birdied five of his first seven holes to storm out the gate, which normally would put him at the top of the leaderboard if it weren’t for Niemann.

“I didn’t see him early on, and then when I was 5 under and I was tied for fourth, I was like, ‘Somebody is — I was 5 under through 7, and I was third, so I was like, ‘Okay, clearly everybody is going off.’”

After the turn, Rahm added to his tally with a pair of birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 and was cruising through the back nine until he leaked a bit of oil coming in with two bad bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes.

“I feel like one of those bogeys, 17, was avoidable. 18 was just unfortunate,” he explained. “But it doesn’t take away from how good I played those first 16 holes. It was nice to get off the jump, just get going and play good golf. So far I would say it was a very successful start.”

Seven shots back is quite the mountain to climb, especially with only 36 holes left compared to the 54 that Rahm is used to. Despite the deficit, Rahm is more focused on what he didn’t do to close out his round than what Niemann did to take his lead.

2024 LIV Golf Mayakoba
2024 LIV Golf Mayakoba

Captain Jon Rahm of Legion XIII warms up in the practice area during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational – Mayakoba at El Camaleon at Mayakoba on February 02, 2024 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)

“If anything I’m thinking more about that, my finish, than what Joaco did. Again, I think if the wind doesn’t pick up, we’re going to have to approach a 20-under, which again is doable,” he said. “The greens are in really good shape, and if you can put the ball in the fairway, you can give yourself chances.”

“I played a really good round today,” he added. “If I cleaned up my finish a little bit, could have been a fantastic way to finish.”

Rahm explained his first impressions of LIV as a different vibe compared to what he’s used to on Tour, but noted the music throughout the round wasn’t too different from how he plays at home – if anything the speakers on carts back in Arizona are more powerful than LIV’s, he joked. As the captain of the league’s first expansion team, Legion XIII, Rahm said earlier in the week that it was unusual to be thinking about managing his team seeing as golf is an individual sport. He then found himself watching the leaderboard on Friday to keep tabs on his teammates Tyrrell Hatton, Caleb Surratt and Kieran Vincent.

“It’s funny, the first few times I was more interested in how the team was doing than myself, which was definitely something new, and I think Cam caught me looking, he said that; it’s crazy how you might care more about the team than your individual,” Rahm explained. “Yeah, I obviously kept up. There’s three players that I want to see how they’re doing. Not their best start, but still two more days for them to show what they’re made of. Even though it’s still early; we’ve got a barely, barely turned professional player and Kieran who’s now full-time here. It could be expected to have a little bit of a difficult start.”

“But I feel like those two guys and Tyrrell at some point are going to surprise a lot of people,” he added. “Maybe not Tyrrell because he’s done it so many times, but those two guys might play a level of golf that I know they can play but that a lot of people haven’t seen.”

Legion XIII is 4 under as a team and currently sits T-7 alongside Sergio Garcia’s Fireballs GC entering Saturday’s second round.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek