PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Tyrrell Hatton told his new Legion XIII teammates prior to their champagne celebration Sunday at LIV Golf Mayakoba not to spray in each other’s face.
But then Hatton suffered mechanical issues. One champagne bottle was ready to go, but the cork went off prematurely. So, he grabbed another bottle. But just as the ceremony started, he couldn’t undo the top; no word on whether the problem was the cork or the muselet.
Either way, Hatton decided to hang back while his teammates popped their corks atop the podium. But while everybody else was spraying champagne, “I was looking like an idiot at the back,” he said. “Eventually I did get it off – and just sprayed everyone in the face anyway.”
OK, so maybe it wasn’t the smoothest champagne celebration, but it’s certainly understandable. After all, the four members of Legion XIII only joined forces earlier in the week as LIV Golf’s first expansion team.
Hatton and team captain Jon Rahm obviously are tight as undefeated Ryder Cup partners. And Rahm has had some interaction with Caleb Surratt, the 19-year-old University of Tennessee sophomore who turned pro to join LIV Golf. They had once played a practice round together prior to a PGA Tour event. When Surratt reached out about a spot on Rahm’s new team, the captain was intrigued. Meanwhile, Rahm had seen Kieran Vincent qualify through LIV Golf Promotions but did not know him personally.
Hatton didn’t sign with LIV until a week ago. Surratt was living in his dorm room in Knoxville a month ago. Things felt a bit rushed. “The process was a little bit harder than what we would have liked to acquire all the players,” acknowledged Rahm.
And yet, it took just one tournament and three rounds to win a team trophy. It’s a fast track to the podium that no doubt makes teams like Cleeks GC, HyFlyers GC, Iron Heads GC and Majesticks GC a bit envious – those four remain as the only LIV teams not to win at least one tournament.
Even Rahm wasn’t sure what to expect at Mayakoba.
“It’s different to any competition we’ve been in before,” he said. “There’s a lot to adapt to. I think we have to get through that to then think about winning.”
The team was tied for seventh after the first round, with Surratt weakened while fighting a food reaction. But Rahm offered advice on how to bounce back from the illness, then provided the team with a motivation video on Saturday. Legion XIII subsequently moved into solo second behind Joaquin Niemann’s Torque GC through 36 holes.
Rahm then used another motivational tool entering the third round – a picture with a quote from Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros, Rahm’s idol. Hatton had seen the quote before at the Ryder Cup. “I thought it was fitting to use that one,” Rahm said. “I’m glad that it helped if it did.”
Asked what the quote said, Rahm responded: “I’d rather not share.”
On Sunday, thanks to Hatton’s hot start – six birdies in his first eight holes – Legion XIII climbed into the lead, eventually building it to eight strokes.
But with this year’s format change that sees every score count for every team, massive shifts on the leaderboard can happen fast. Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers were making a run, and Surratt had followed a bogey on his 12th hole with a four-putt triple on his 13th. Rahm struggled to get going while Hatton’s momentum had slowed. The lead was down to three.
Then something magical happened. The teenager from Tennessee reeled off five consecutive birdies after his triple bogey to post a 4-under 67. With the pressure on, he grew up in a hurry. And delivered.
“There was a quote that I kept telling myself all day and it was just like, I will not be shaken,” Surratt said. “… I let my guard down, and then I had a couple rough holes. Then I told myself after that triple that I'm not going to be shaken from anything that happens.
“I put my head down and played. I wasn't shaken by anything on the way in. I'm proud of that, and I think I'm going to keep that quote in my mind for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Vincent had steadied himself as an early rollercoaster start to finish with a 2-under 69. “I'm not really a leaderboard follower or looker, so I try to avoid it as best as I can,” said Vincent, the younger brother of Iron Heads’ Scott Vincent. “But my peripheral got the better of me today, so I kept peeking at it every now and again like oh, I shouldn't be doing that.”
In the end, Rahm’s 70 was the highest score across the lineup. He finished with bogeys on his last two holes, taking him out of contention for the individual playoff between Niemann and Sergio Garcia. But by then, Legion XIII had already sealed their debut win.
Because of the situation of pulling the team together late in the process, Legion XIII’s win may seem unexpected. But it’s certainly not improbable – not with proven world-class performers like Rahm and Hatton at the top of the lineup.
“I wouldn’t say we’re ahead of schedule,” Rahm said. “The goal is to win…. That’s the whole point of being here.”
Said Surratt: “We sat in this room four days ago and Jon was explaining our team logo and what our big purpose was, and that's just fighting. I can honestly say without that fight and without countless other fights from all four of us throughout these past three days, we wouldn't be standing here.”
Late Sunday night, the fight – at least for this week in Mexico – was over. Legion XIII had won, and it was time to celebrate. Except Hatton’s champagne bottle wasn’t cooperating. Meanwhile, Rahm was very conscious not to overdo it with the kid from Tennessee, for fear of exposing him to too much alcohol.
It made for good fun, and perhaps instead of a motivational video, Rahm needs to send his teammates an instructional one on champagne celebrations – although he’s not sure how effective it might be
“I don’t think we’ll ever get good at it,” he joked.
No worries. After Legion XIII’s opening statement this week, you get the feeling they’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.