If you took world number five Jon Rahm’s last 20 rounds of golf, fed them into the World Handicap System and averaged out his eight best rounds, then you’d get a handicap differential of -13.1875. That takes Rahm’s current handicap index to +13 (13-under-par). Just mull over that for a moment. That means, hypothetically, 18-handicappers would get 31 strokes from Rahm over 18 holes, and still stand little chance of beating the Spaniard.
That gobsmacking statistic is the most revealing indicator of Rahm’s otherworldly quality of play recently. In this period, he’s won three of the last six events he’s teed it up at, including comprehensive wins at the DP World Tour Championship and the Spanish Open. But the most emphatic assertion of dominance came earlier this month, when Rahm overhauled Collin Morikawa’s six-stroke lead on the final day of the Sentry Tournament of Champions to win by two strokes. There’s little room for debate here: Jon Rahm is the best player in the world.
No one can accuse the Spaniard of being modest: “Had they not changed the world ranking points (system) I would have been pretty close (to world No. 1) right now. But in my mind, I feel like since August (2022) I've been the best player in the world,” he said after his win in Hawaii. The world rankings system had been revamped in 2021 to prioritise depth-of-field rather than the ranks of players involved; Rahm had described the move as ‘laughable.’ Rankings apart, it was Rahm who laughed all the way to the bank after his win in Hawaii, pocketing, brace for it, $2.7 million of the $15 million tournament purse.
Call it what you will—and there are plenty of euphemisms being bandied about for the PGA Tour’s sudden magnanimity—but it is undoubtedly the LIV Golf effect. Ever since the Saudi Golf-backed Tour began to woo players away from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour alliance, the latter have had to improvise and come up with new incentives to stem the bleeding. Rahm’s windfall was a result of one such new initiative that involves a series of ‘elevated’ tournaments with significantly higher prize money in 2023. There will be 17 such events during the season in which the Top 20 players in the Tour’s 2022 Player-Impact-Programme are required to take part. Purses for these events have dramatically increased from a year ago to around $20 million each.
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The idea is to create a sub-tourney in which all the best players on the PGA Tour compete in the same events. Depth-of-field has become a problem because, well, some of the best players have defected to the LIV Golf Tour. Speaking of LIV Golf, things have quietened down a bit on that front. The first event on LIV Golf Tour’s schedule is slated to be played in the last week of February 2023 but the Tour hasn’t yet announced its full roster of players. No news is not necessarily bad news: this tussle between golf tours has already stolen too much attention away from the game.
Pre-empting a LIV Golf-style takeover over the women’s game, The Ladies European Tour, has also infused €9.5 million in 2023, taking the total prize money spread across 30 events in 21 countries to €35 million. As a part of that tour, the Hero Women’s Indian Open will return in October this year and will see a host of Indian players including Diksha Dagar take part.
The DP World Tour’s recently announced schedule includes 45 tournaments in 31 countries with a total prize money of $ 133 million—a significant jump from 2022. In Asia, the Tour will host events in Singapore, Thailand, Japan and South Korea. The critical difference this year is that none of these events will be co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour. The latter has already signed up with Saudi Golf that’s stepped in to bankroll a new international series tourney in Asia.
In the face of its declining influence in the region, the DP World Tour-PGA Tour alliance has reached out to national tours including India’s very own PGTI. As part of a newly-minted agreement, the top-ranked player on the PGTI will get a card on the DP World Tour (Manu Gandas takes that spot for 2022) while other top finishers will be able to play in various stages of qualifying tournaments. All of these machinations amongst golf tours in the international arena have churned things in Asia’s favour. The continent is where the future of the game and the big money sponsors, lie.
Closer to home, there’s even more reason to cheer as the Hero Indian Open returns to the country after a pandemic-related hiatus of three long years. Fans can bookmark 23-26 February to visit the DLF Golf & Country Club to watch the event. The Indian Open used to be a keenly-awaited annual fixture where fans could watch all the top Indian players in action against a world-class field. It’s been a while since we saw the likes of Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban Lahiri, Shubhankar Sharma, and other top Indian pros tee it up in the capital.
Bhullar is back in form after becoming the first three-time winner of the Indonesian Open late last year; Lahiri had that phenomenal tied-second finish on the PGA Tour’s Players’ Championship in 2022, and Sharma has done well enough to keep his playing rights on the DP World Tour. Here’s hoping these gents can make the time to keep their date with the Indian Open this year. In 2023, the event will be a standalone DP World Tour event (no longer co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour) and will offer a princely purse of $2 million—the highest ever for a golf tournament on Indian soil. But for Indian players—and the likes of Bhullar, Lahiri and Sharma would concur—winning the Indian Open isn’t about the money.
Meraj Shah is a Delhi-based writer, golfer and television producer.