[PHOTO: J.D. Cuban]
You have Jon Rahm questions, we have… well, we don’t have answers, because the incontrovertible takeaway from the past two years in professional golf is that no one knows anything, at least for certain. But we do have informed opinions about the heated speculation that Rahm may be departing for LIV Golf, and we’ll try our best to explain what is going on.
Wait, Jon Rahm is going to LIV?
Allegedly! Rahm’s been linked with the Saudi-backed circuit throughout the past two years, thanks to his affiliation with Phil Mickelson (more on this in a moment) and his appeal as an international commodity (something LIV has targeted). However, since the Ryder Cup, the rumours have increased in noise, with a handful of pro-LIV social media handles reporting the deal between Rahm and LIV is done. It should be noted, nay, shouted, that nothing is official, and Rahm, to this point, has not addressed the speculation.
I’m confused; hasn’t he said he would never go to LIV?
Yes, many times! Here’s Rahm in February 2022, right around Mickelson’s “scary motherf—ers” quote:
“This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour.”
Then, at the 2022 US Open:
“I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world… I have always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that. There’s a meaning when you win the Memorial championship. There’s a meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win LA, Torrey, some of these historic venues. That to me matters a lot. After winning this past US Open, only me and Tiger have won at Torrey Pines. Making putts on 18 – that’s a memory that I’m gonna have forever that not many people can say. “My heart is with the PGA Tour. That’s all I can say. It’s not my business or my character to judge anybody who thinks otherwise. And for a lot of people, I’m not gonna lie, those next three, four years are worth, basically, their retirement plan. It’s a very nice compensation until they retire and sail off into the sunset.”
Granted, to say a little has changed between last June and now is a gross understatement. However, Rahm said this in August about LIV: “I laugh when people rumour me with LIV Golf. I never liked the format. And I always have a good time with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia in the practice rounds of majors. Phil respects my decision, and I respect his [choice]. Mickelson has told me that I have no reason to go play for LIV, and he has told me that multiple times.”
So, if Rahm did leave… it’s a tough look. Not as bad as Brooks Koepka claiming “somebody will sell out” and take LIV’s money, though.
Why would Rahm leave?
A good question, considering in its two years LIV has proved itself incapable of taking one step forward without stepping on the other foot. However, despite Rahm’s insistence that money wouldn’t change his life, sources tell Golf Digest there are family members and friends pushing for Rahm to take the deal. Additionally, Mickelson remains an influential person in Rahm’s orbit, and Mickelson’s brother Tim was Rahm’s college golf coach and first manager. Rahm is also represented by the same agency as Mickelson. Also worth noting is Rahm’s… how should we put this?… indignation at the PGA Tour, multiple sources tell Golf Digest. Rahm believes he’s not marketed the same way as other players on tour and that there are those below his station who have a greater voice in the tour’s direction. Going to LIV would allow Rahm to be the face of the league.
Finally, Rahm is now at the stature where he’s judged by majors and majors alone. He’s in the Masters for life, the US Open until 2031, and has five-year exemptions into the PGA Championship and Open Championship. That’s a lot of runway for a 29-year-old, with plenty of room to add to it.
What could this mean for LIV?
Everything. LIV has failed to gain traction with the entire golf populace and didn’t bring over any additional starpower in its sophomore campaign. Heading into its third season, LIV’s roster remains filled with has-beens or rank-and-file names, and the league’s rejected application for world-ranking points means LIV will not shed accusations that it’s nothing more than an exhibition anytime soon. However, they would now have arguably the best golfer in the world in the prime of his career. That doesn’t turn the rest of LIV’s barnstormers into gladiators or equate to a jump in viewership, but it gets LIV headed in the right direction.
It also – and we hate to use the word “narrative”, but, let’s be real, LIV Golf has a number of players with character baggage, and the league is funded by a regime accused of numerous human-rights violations. Rahm is a respected man whose presence breaks the mould of the LIV archetype, allowing the league to change its narrative and perception.
So what does that say about Rahm?
It’s worth repeating: Rahm is a good, solid guy. That does not change the sentiment that you are the company that you keep, and by joining LIV, Rahm – in the eyes of LIV and Saudi critics – is becoming a frontman for a problematic kingdom.
However, without condemning or condoning Rahm or any future player who makes the jump, it’s worth considering that Saudi money could be infused to the PGA Tour. There’s a difference between running to it versus it running to you, and that’s certainly a nuanced conversation, but you don’t have to look to hard to see the mental gymnastics that could be at play with such a decision.
Would this mean no more Ryder Cup for Rahm?
Not quite. Most European LIV players surrendered their DP World Tour membership when joining LIV, thus making them ineligible for the biennial event. It is unknown if the European circuit gave its blessing for the decision (although sources tell Golf Digest that Rahm’s camp has used back-channels asking for assurance), but with the PGA and DP World tours in discussions with PIF, Rahm and LIV Golf players would likely be eligible for 2025 as long as they have DP World Tour membership.
Hold on, I thought the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia are joining forces?
Right, about that. Those negotiations remain ongoing, with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and Saudi Arabia’s PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan meeting this week. It’s also no secret that several companies are vying to provide financial backing to the tour, calling into question if the PIF deal will ultimately come to fruition.
What would a Rahm departure mean for the deal?
Sources tell Golf Digest that PIF looks at Rahm as a bargaining chip amid worries the PGA Tour will ultimately walk away from the proposed framework agreement, the belief being that the tour could not afford to lose someone as valuable as Rahm. So, there is a possibility this gives LIV an upper hand and ensures a deal happens. The problem, sources tell Golf Digest, is that a number of highly prominent voices inside the tour look at a Rahm poaching as a casus belli, ending this period of detente and reigniting professional golf’s civil war.
Wasn’t there a no-poaching clause in the framework agreement?
There was, but both sides ended up sidelining it due to antitrust regulations.
Haven’t there been false LIV rumours and predictions before?
Too many to count, like the time LIV chief executive Greg Norman said he was targeting seven top-20 players to add to its roster before the 2023 season, only to add Thomas Pieters, Mito Pereira, Dean Burmester, Sebastian Munoz, Brendan Steele and Danny Lee. Or when everyone thought Hideki Matsuyama had signed with LIV in 2022. Or that Adam Scott was leaving after the 2022 Presidents Cup. Or that Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were gone after this year’s Ryder Cup. Or… you get the gist.
So, this could all be BS?
Maybe, but it could very much happen! While Rahm has denied LIV rumours in the past – and thus, we should give him the benefit of the doubt – this one certainly feels different, and his camp has been radio silent to almost everyone (including fellow tour players) inquiring what’s going on. Adding to speculation is Rahm pulling out of TGL (before the league was postponed a year), and that he was not listed in the American Express tournament’s field of notables, an event he won in 2022.
Any chance Rahm stays with the PGA Tour?
Well, the tour is adding more bathrooms at Rahm’s behest, which doesn’t hurt.
What would a Rahm departure mean for golf?
A Rahm defection not only gives LIV formidability at a point where it desperately needs some vigour, it could be the bridge for other stars to follow. True, the same thing was said about Koepka, and Dustin Johnson, and Cam Smith… but the game is at a crossroads and Rahm’s decision could decide which road the professional sport will travel. The PGA Tour will go on, but a tour without Rahm is a tour that is weakened. That doesn’t mean LIV Golf wins its battle against the PGA Tour. It just means the battle continues, which, for the rest of golf, sure feels like a loss.