Jon Rahm begins title defense, LIV players contemplate Ryder Cup and more from the golf world

The first women’s major championship of the season is in the books. The second men’s major, the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, is three weeks away.

There’s plenty of professional golf to watch this week, with the PGA Tour in Mexico, the LIV Golf League in Singapore and the LPGA Tour in Los Angeles.

World No. 1 golfer Jon Rahm, playing for the second time in three weeks since winning a green jacket at the Masters, will try to defend his title in Mexico.

Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:

What’s next on the PGA Tour

Mexico Open

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Vidanta Vallarta, Villa Hidalgo, Mexico

Defending champion: Jon Rahm

Purse: $7.7 million

Storylines to watch:

Rahm’s defense: Rahm won the 2022 Mexico Open by one shot over Brandon Wu, Tony Finau and Kurt Kitayama. He opened with a 7-under 64 and led after each round. It was Rahm’s lone PGA Tour victory last season and ended his nearly 11-month winless drought.

Much has changed since then. The Spaniard has already won four times on tour this season (and six more times worldwide), including picking up his second major championship at the Masters. He tied for 15th in his last start at the RBC Heritage. Rahm would become the first player since Justin Thomas in 2016-17 to win five times in a season.

Rahm leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: total (2.421), birdie average (5.08) and scoring average (68.823). No one is playing better than Rahmbo right now.

Weaker field: With the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, a designated event, coming up next on the schedule, it’s not exactly a loaded field in Mexico.

Along with Rahm, Tony Finau (16th in the world) is the only other player in the 144-man field who is ranked in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Sweden’s Alex Noren (49th) is the only other player in the top 50.

There will be 17 Latin American players competing in Mexico’s national championship, including Arkansas senior Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, the reigning Latin American Amateur Championship winner, UCLA sophomore Omar Morales and Oregon sophomore Jose Islas.

Don’t look down: You’ll probably hear more than a few times during this week’s TV broadcast that Vidanta Vallarta, which opened in 2015, is home to the world’s longest golf suspension bridge. Vidanta Vallarta, on the Pacific coast, hosted the Mexico Open for the first time last year.

For players to reach the Norman Signature Golf Course, they’ll have to make a trip across a 560-foot long bridge, which extends across the Ameca River. According to the resort’s website, the bridge is 6 feet wide. Its architects were inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge while designing the sloping supports. The course’s 10th hole was eighth toughest in terms of scoring average on the PGA Tour last year.

What’s next in the LIV Golf League

LIV Golf Invitational Singapore

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Sentosa Golf Club (Serapong Course) Sentosa Island, Singapore

Purse: $25 million ($4 million to individual winner)

Storylines to watch:

Another first: Last week’s LIV Golf event in Australia was probably the most successful in its two-year existence, with tens of thousands of golf-starved fans flocking to Adelaide to watch favorite son Cameron Smith and others compete in the 54-hole event. There’s talk of bringing a second LIV Golf tournament to Australia in the future.

“I really hope it’s bigger to be honest,” Smith told reporters in Australia on Sunday. “I think we do more stuff, get more people in here. There’s obviously a want in Australia, I think, for really high-quality golf, and I think the fans here really enjoyed what LIV offers. Yeah, there’s no reason why we can’t make it bigger.”

Smith, the reigning Open Championship winner, said bringing a tournament to his native country was one of the reasons he left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. Having two in the Land Down Under would be even better.

“I think if we come down here, just given the travel, it would have to be back-to-back weeks,” Smith said. “But yeah, I guess we just wait and see. I think this is a perfect time of year to play golf in Australia. The weather is perfect. The greens are starting to get those kinds of winter browns and get really firm and fast. I think it’s a perfect time to play.”

This week’s tournament is LIV Golf’s first in Singapore, and Greg Norman‘s circuit promises to “bring the world’s best golfers to Asia, a massive market deserving of the sport’s top competition and event experiences.”

Super sub: England’s Laurie Canter, who filled in for injured Cleeks GC captain Martin Kaymer earlier this season, is back in the 48-man field-this time as a replacement for injured Majesticks GC member Sam Horsfield.

Horsfield was forced to withdraw from the Australia tournament after the second round because of an undisclosed injury. Canter played with Majesticks co-captains Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood in the inaugural event outside London and in the first U.S. event in Portland, Oregon last year. He was replaced by 2016 Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson and finished the season with the Cleeks.

It has been a struggle so far for the Majesticks, who are last among 12 teams in the season-long standings with only four points. They finished last in Tucson, Arizona, next-to-last in Mexico and Australia and sixth in Orlando, Florida. Dustin Johnson‘s 4Aces GC, the defending team champions, picked up their first team victory of the season at Adelaide. They have 96 points-44 points better than Joaquin Niemann‘s Torque GC.

Uihlein to me?: Former Oklahoma State star Peter Uihlein struggled to make it on the PGA Tour, with 10 career top-10 finishes in 126 starts. To say he’s found new life in the LIV Golf League would be a gross understatement.

After finishing third in the season-long individual points race in 2022, Uihlein is the points leader after four events this season. He finished second in Mexico, 10th in Tucson, eighth in Orlando and seventh in Australia. He’s the only LIV Golf League player who finished in top 10 in all four tournaments, and he has an eight-point cushion over Charles Howell III in the points standings. Talor Gooch and Carlos Ortiz are tied for third with 52 points.

What’s next on the LPGA Tour

JM Eagle LA Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Wilshire Country Club, Los Angeles

Purse: $3 million

Storylines to watch:

New world No. 1: Despite a disappointing Sunday finish at the Chevron Championship, Nelly Korda overtook Lydia Ko to return to No. 1 in the world. Korda, who missed much of last season with a blood clot in her arm, finished third in the first major of the season. Ko missed the cut and fell to No. 2 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.

It is the fourth time in Korda’s career that she has been ranked No. 1. The last time was in November.

“Yeah, I mean, amazing,” said Korda, who carded a 1-under 71 in the final round and missed a playoff by one stroke. “It would have been obviously very nice to win the major, as well, but I think being world No. 1 is very rewarding. All my hard work has paid off, and hopefully [will] continue building, but the No. 1 ranking keeps bouncing back and forth, back and forth.”

Going home: Fresh off her first victory in a major championship and her second win of the season, Lilia Vu is headed home for this week’s JM Eagle LA Championship. Vu, 25, grew up in the L.A. area and played collegiately at UCLA. Wilshire Country Club was one of the Bruins’ home courses.

It will be quite the homecoming for Vu, who defeated Angel Yin in a sudden-death playoff to win the Chevron Championship. The 2018 Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year made one cut in nine starts as a PGA Tour rookie in 2019. She earned $3,830 and nearly quit golf to attend law school.

After spending two seasons on the Epson Tour, Vu regained her LPGA Tour card. She finished in the top 15 in each of her five starts this season. She is now ranked fourth in the world.

Familiar place: Along with UCLA, USC’s women’s golf team also claims Wilshire Country Club one of its home courses. There are six former UCLA and seven former USC players in the field this week.

“Wilshire was always Wilshire Wednesdays,” said former UCLA star Alison Lee, who attended elementary school around the corner from the club. “We would go early in the morning on Wednesdays trying to beat traffic in the morning. We would try and get there by 7:00 a.m. and be out by around 10:00 a.m., and try and make it back to campus for workouts.”

While the LPGA has played events at Wilshire Country Club since 2018, it’s the first year of the JM Eagle LA Championship. The presenting sponsor, Plastpro, the world’s largest plastic pipe manufacturer, doubled the purse size from $1.5 million. The winner will collect $450,000. The increased money on the line has attracted eight of the top 10 players in the world; Ko and Lexi Thompson are the only ones not playing.

LIV Golf stars in the Ryder Cup?

When Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka jumped to the LIV Golf circuit last year, it was widely assumed they’d no longer be eligible for the Ryder Cup, which is staged by the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe.

To be eligible to participate on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, a player has to be a member of the PGA of America, which elite players obtain through their memberships on the PGA Tour.

The PGA of America recently clarified its rules, noting there’s a grace period that enables LIV Golf League members to keep their memberships through June 2024. So, Johnson, Koepka and other LIV Golf players are actually eligible to compete in the 2023 Ryder Cup, which is scheduled to be played near Rome from Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

“Under the PGA of America membership rules there are classifications that currently allow LIV Tour members to retain their PGA of America membership status,” the PGA of America statement said. “PGA Tour members are considered A3 classification. Because the LIV players paid their membership dues before June 30, 2022, they will retain their membership through the end of June 2023 and then through a grace period that runs through the end of June 2024. After that, under our current rules, they may apply for PGA’s Reserve Member classification. A3 members who resigned or are no longer PGA Tour Members (suspended) are still PGA of America members.”

Any of the LIV Golf players would probably need to be one of U.S. team captain Zach Johnson‘s six captain’s choices. The top six in the U.S. team points standings earn automatic spots; Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Cameron Young, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns and Patrick Cantlay currently have the most points.

Koepka and Phil Mickelson, who tied for second at the Masters, are ranked 17th and 23rd, respectively. Dustin Johnson is 32nd. They’ll only receive points in the three remaining major championships, and they might have to win one to become an automatic qualifier.

Johnson won each of his five matches in the U.S. team’s 19-9 victory over the Europeans at Whistling Straits in 2021.

“I have no idea [if I’ll be eligible] and it’s not up to me so I can’t make that decision,” Koepka told the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. “But if they choose us, we’ll be ready to go.”

It wasn’t me!

Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, sent an email to golf media outlets Monday morning, disputing comments that DJ reportedly made about PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan following his team’s win at the LIV Golf event in Australia.

“We don’t give a damn how he feels,” Johnson reportedly said, according to the Australian Associated Press. “We know how he feels about us, so it’s mutual.”

According to Winkle, Johnson declined comment when asked about Monahan by a reporter.

“I spoke with Dustin from Singapore this morning at which time he emphatically denied making any such statement,” Winkle wrote on Monday. “He elaborated by saying his actual response to the question was ‘no comment.’ Dustin remains grateful for his time on the PGA Tour and has the utmost respect for Commissioner Monahan.”

Johnson, who won 24 times on the PGA Tour and earned nearly $75 million on the course during his tour career, has attempted to stay out of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour fray. His 4Aces GC teammate, Pat Perez, hasn’t been so quiet about his former circuit.

So it might not have been a surprise to learn that it was actually Perez who made the comments about Monahan, according to LIV Golf spokesperson Jane MacNeille. Perez confirmed he made the comments in a text to Sports Illustrated.

Twitter wars

Chase Koepka‘s ace on the par-3 12th hole at Adelaide, which was dubbed the “Watering Hole,” sparked a Twitter war between English golfers Richard Bland and Eddie Pepperell on Sunday.

Pepperell compared the scene to the famous 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“This has been happening at Scottsdale for years now, so not sure how much LIV is really changing things here,” Pepperell wrote on Twitter.

LIV Golf’s Richard Bland responded: “Ed.. tell me where on DP World there’s been a hole like this? Because in 22yrs of playing the tour I can’t think of any. But maybe your 15 minutes on tour you know different.”

Pepperell, one of the more outspoken golfers on Twitter, couldn’t hold back.

The pair made up the next day. Bland wrote that he had been drinking and “should know better not to tweet under the influence.” On Tuesday, Bland shut down his Twitter account.

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