Inside Jon Rahm’s texts with ‘true friends’ Zach Ertz, J.J. Watt

Inside Jon Rahm’s texts with ‘true friends’ Zach Ertz, J.J. Watt

​​WHEN JON RAHM started his warmup the morning of the first round of the Masters in April, he set his phone to do not disturb. The barrage of messages, most of which usually wish him luck, would have to wait a few hours.

Unbeknownst to him, one was waiting for him that would become part of Masters lore.

About 10 minutes before his tee time, Rahm wrapped up his range session and jumped in a golf cart. The putting green at Augusta National Golf Club is just far enough from the range that Rahm opted for the three-minute ride, giving him time to check his phone.

That’s when he saw a message from his group chat with Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz and former Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

Ertz woke up that morning and turned on the Masters coverage. Even with his novice eyes, Ertz saw the first green and thought it looked “like an ocean. There’s waves and mounds and hills and it just looks impossible,” Ertz told ESPN.

So, he had a little fun with it.

“First hole green looks like a walk in the park,” Ertz texted in an effort to pump up his friend.

Rahm read it and laughed. It was the kind of message Rahm has now come to expect from Ertz and Watt. The three have grown close over the past year, building a friendship that centers on a now-famous group chat where they offer advice and encouragement, talk a little smack and discuss their growing families and unique professional lives.

“That is the comment you make when you have no idea how that first green is because it’s actually one of the hardest in Augusta,” Rahm said. “It’s funny how they show you the three groups that made birdies and you think, ‘Well, this is easy.’”

Rahm reached the green in two and proceeded to four-putt to start the first round with a double-bogey. When Ertz saw Rahm’s score on that first hole, he quickly texted Watt in a side conversation: “Man, that is not a good start to the tournament.”

Rahm couldn’t help but laugh as he walked to the second hole. He regrouped to shoot 9 under during the next 17 holes to finish the day tied for the lead. Ertz still believes that making Rahm laugh in that moment helped the Spaniard move on from what could’ve been a devastating start.

Rahm responded to the chat after the round, telling them that if he won, he was going to mention Ertz’s text in his speech.

Sure enough, Rahm won his first Masters by 4 strokes. Toward the end of the green jacket ceremony, he paused.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to do this,” he started. “But I have to do it to him.”

He told the now-legendary story of the text, naming Ertz, who wasn’t watching.

Ertz’s phone lit up.

“I think,” Ertz joked, “I deserve a piece of the green jacket.”


In June 2022, Ertz was invited to play at Silverleaf, an exclusive golf club in North Scottsdale, Arizona, where Rahm is a member. Rahm, who’s ranked No. 3 in the world ahead of this week’s Tour Championship, was asked to join his group — but it wasn’t the first time the two had met.

Rahm and Ertz were on an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen” that aired in October 2017. That day at Silverleaf, while Ertz was shooting 8s and Rahm was waiting for him to finish after making birdie after birdie, Rahm reminded Ertz of their reality-TV escapades. Soon after their first round together, Rahm invited Ertz to play at Whisper Rock, an even more exclusive club in Arizona whose membership includes a number of PGA Tour players. Ertz brought along Watt and former Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh, and it didn’t take long for Rahm and his new friends to hit it off.

“Jon’s very inquisitive,” Watt told ESPN. “He loves to ask questions. He loves to find out different things, so he was asking a bunch of questions about nutrition, workouts, sleep recovery, things like that.”

Watt reciprocated, asking Rahm “a ton of questions” about golf and family. From there, the friendship blossomed.

“Those two are amazing humans, first and foremost,” Ertz said of Watt and Rahm. “They’re great people to be around, but we’re also three people that have very similar outlooks on life and are at very similar phases in life.”

The three have plenty of common ground: They share similar senses of humor; they’re around the same age (Ertz is 32, Watt 34 and Rahm 28); their wives are athletes — Julie Ertz is a two-time World Cup winner, Kealia Watt played in the National Women’s Soccer League, and Kelley Cahill Rahm threw the javelin at Arizona State.

And they’re all relatively new fathers. When they met, only Rahm had a child, Kepa, and was expecting his second, Eneko, a couple of months later. At the time, Julie and Kealia were both pregnant with each couple’s first child. Ertz, whose son, Madden, was born in August, and Watt, whose son, Koa, was born in October, started asking Rahm all sorts of questions about fatherhood. Do you need someone in the hospital room with you? Is a sleep sack important? Julie would even have Zach ask Rahm questions.

Rahm said he didn’t have many answers but did tell them about what to pack for the hospital and the emotions of becoming a new dad — as well as all the exhaustion that comes with it.

In the early days, Rahm felt like the outsider because Ertz and Watt were already friends and had spent two years together playing for the Cardinals. It didn’t help that Rahm felt out of place next to the much larger football players.

“Maybe they just wanted golf tips at some point and they wanted to invite me in,” Rahm said.

But Ertz and Watt have welcomed Rahm into their circle with open arms, and these days they usually hang out together whenever they have the time.

The Rahms spent a weekend with the Watts in Idaho in July, and it was the first time Eneko, Kepa and Koa got to play together.

“The best part,” Watt said, “is we get to just hang out and our kids can hang out.”

WHILE GOLF WAS their gateway and fatherhood their link, their careers as professional athletes helped cement their relationship.

“We live in a very different world, and our experiences are very different,” Rahm said of his friends who aren’t in the spotlight. “So, even though I can talk to them, sometimes they will never understand the situation of being in the public eye and what that entails. Zach and J.J. obviously understand that to a perfection and both of them being a much bigger deal than I am in their lives.”

Watt earned $129.7 million in his career. Ertz has made $62 million and counting. Rahm is at $51.4 million and counting.

Their lives are different from those of almost everyone else. And it goes beyond money and fame.

“Whether it’s the mental aspect of sport, whether it’s the physical aspect of it, the highs of winning, the lows of losing, and then just the day-to-day things — the travel, the grind, the getting your body ready, all the different things that nobody else has experienced and can talk about,” Watt said.

Having shared those experiences and emotions, Watt said the three can be open and honest with one another.

They’ve been each other’s sounding boards, whether it was after a bad round by Rahm or during Ertz’s rehab from ACL surgery. They feel comfortable being vulnerable with one another, and each helps the others be the best version of themselves, Ertz said.

“They’re there for me to help me, build me up,” he added. “There’s no judgment involved, and it’s just we care about each other based on people and not based on sport. I think that’s the root of any great relationship.”

That trust may have helped catapult Rahm to that green jacket.

The week before the Masters, after Rahm had finished tied for 31st at the WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas, he told Ertz and Watt that he needed to clear his head and suggested a dinner. Ertz made a reservation at a seafood restaurant in Phoenix and told Watt and Rahm when to be there.

Ertz and Watt spent the meal talking through things with Rahm and pumping him up. In no uncertain terms, Watt reminded Rahm that he was one of the best players in the world.

“That’s what good friends are for, when someone’s going through something and they want to vent or you want to take their mind off whatever’s going on,” Ertz said.

Ever since Rahm won the Masters, Watt and Ertz have claimed the title of Rahm’s coaches — and co-winners of the Masters.

“They say they are my coaches — my mental coaches, my nutritionist, my everything,” Rahm said. “It’s pretty funny.”

Said Watt: “We’ve told him many times what our commission is, and we have yet to receive our payments. So, we’re a little frustrated. His caddie gets paid every single week, and our invoices are falling flat.”

NOT A DAY goes by that the three don’t talk in the group chat.

Shortly after breakfast on a Wednesday in July, they had already exchanged a handful of texts. The topics vary. Watt estimated it’s one-third about kids, one-third “random dumb stuff” and one-third about sports. Ertz said it’s mostly checking in on one another.

When Rahm won the Masters, the name of the group chat was “Birdies and Babies.” Since then it’s been changed to “Masters champ and coaches,” and now it’s “Birds, Birdies and Burnley.”

Watt is well aware that, in most cases, people don’t want to constantly be sent pictures of their friends’ kids. That’s not the case with Rahm, Watt and Ertz. They fill the group chat with pictures and videos and ask about what they’re feeding their kids. And then there’s golf talk.

Watt hasn’t been shy about asking for tips, like what to do if the course is wet and he’s hitting everything chunky. Rahm told him to shallow out the angle of the clubhead. Has it helped? Not yet, Watt said. Ertz gets a kick out of Watt asking for tips.

“He’ll ask, ‘What should I do for this?’ and then J.J. will just resort to his own swing,” Ertz said with a smile.

Early in tournament weeks, Watt and Ertz have developed a routine. They’ll check in with Rahm to see how he’s feeling, how the course is setting up and how he’s looking.

As they did before the Masters, Watt and Ertz will try to hype Rahm the morning of tournament rounds. There have been times when Ertz and Watt are watching the coverage of a tournament on TV and see Rahm on screen picking up his phone minutes before teeing off, and then their phones light up with a text from him.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, you got to focus, man,’” Watt said. “But, then he’ll go out and shoot a 64, so it’s hilarious.”

Then during tournaments, the three-man group chat usually turns into a two-man conversation.

Watt and Ertz will fire messages back and forth about Rahm’s play. If he hits a great shot, they’ll tell him in real time, even if he won’t see the message until hours later. If Rahm duffs a shot, the two don’t hold back.

“I’ll just be like, ‘I literally could have hit a better shot than that,’” Watt said.

As soon as Rahm is done with a round, Watt and Ertz are quick to find out.

“There’s times where he gets off the 18th green and we have a text 34 seconds later,” Watt said. “He was pissed after one round recently, and 30 seconds after the 18th hole, he was so angry and so mad and he just fired off a text to us. It’s awesome.”

Bad rounds don’t mean Watt and Ertz will take it easy on Rahm.

“If he has a rough tournament or something, I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I thought that course looked really easy. I don’t know what happened out there.’ Something like that,” Watt said.

That is their relationship in a nutshell.

It’s friendship personified: There’s razzing, advice, trust and understanding.

“It’s a type of friend group that it’s true friends,” Watt said. “… I think the phrase goes like, ‘You always talk s— to your best friend’s face and you talk nice about them behind their back.’ That’s kind of what we do.”

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