Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas embrace innovation as newest TGL members
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Duo will join Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy in tech-infused golf league to begin in 2024
Written by Staff @PGATOUR
Jon Rahm embraces the video game culture. The self-described gamer travels with a Nintendo Switch gaming console, and he’s a lifelong Call of Duty enthusiast.
So the newly conceptualized TGL naturally piqued his interest. Rahm and Justin Thomas were announced this week as members of TGL, a screen golf league that will begin play on Monday nights in January 2024.
The league will launch with six three-player teams; Rahm and Thomas join Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as TGL commitments. The virtual course will be complemented by a tech-infused short game complex, with a 15-match regular season leading to semifinals and finals.
“It’s something so out-of-the-box,” said Rahm at this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. “No other sport has done this, and not many sports can have a virtual simulated league like we’re going to have. To have the accessibility and availability to be able to do it, it’s incredible.
“It’s a true opportunity to grow the game and maybe reach an audience that wasn’t interested in golf as well.”
Rahm notes the famed par-3 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open as golf’s closest equivalent to a traditional sporting arena. TGL will allow fans to interact with competitors in an arena setting, giving golf the texture of an indoor sport like basketball or box lacrosse.
In recent years, electronic gaming has steadily gained traction as a spectator sport. Popular esports range from multiplayer battle games like League of Legends to sports games like Madden NFL.
Last year, the esports industry generated $243 million of revenue in the U.S., according to Statista, and the 2021 League of Legends World Championship Final was watched by 73.86 million peak concurrent viewers.
Several TOUR pros travel with gaming consoles – second-year TOUR pro Greyson Sigg goes by the username “Turbs” – and unwinding from a competitive round with a gaming session is common practice. Sahith Theegala is an online chess enthusiast; he freely shares his chess.com username (srtheegala) and welcomes challengers.
By connecting TOUR stars with the burgeoning esports industry, TGL aims to create new fan bases in professional golf. The inaugural lineup, featuring three current world top-10 players in addition to 82-time TOUR winner Woods, represents a strong first step toward that end.
“I think the game of golf is still doing really, really well, and for us to try to take these opportunities to just widen the horizons …” Thomas said. “For the people that are physically there watching and the people that are watching on TV, just some more enjoyment and excitement to the game that will hopefully just continue to take it up and up.”
Rahm admits that his gaming frequency has taken a slight downturn since his son Kepa was born. But he keeps up on industry trends and the newest offerings nonetheless.
Count TGL among them.
“The opportunity is there, and I think it shows the excitement that a lot of us have with seeing the names of the people that want to get involved in it,” Rahm said, referencing the dynamic list of investors in TGL’s parent company TMRW Sports, including a wide range of athletes from the NFL, NBA, F1 and more.
“I’m really excited to get that first match going, see how it’s going to be. Being in an arena, not something we do ever. Maybe the 16th hole at Phoenix and that’s about it. So to have the spectators there, I can’t wait to see what it’s going to look like.”