on Thursday, defecting from the PGA Tour in a move that has shaken the foundation of the sport. This stands as the biggest move LIV Golf has made, and completely changes the dynamics of professional golf for both leagues going into 2024.
Rahm is a two-time major winner, the current Masters champion, already a Ryder Cup legend and someone who has basically been stood as one of the top three players in the world since he turned pro in the summer of 2016. This past season, he won the Tournament of Champions, the American Express, the Genesis Invitational and the Masters.
Jon Rahm's worldwide numbers since turning pro in June 2016.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) April 10, 2023
Top 5s: 1st
Top 10s: 1st
Top 10 percentage: 1st
Strokes gained: 1st
The signing by LIV Golf comes just three weeks before a firm deadline for the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to agree on some sort of deal. Such an accord would lead the PIF, which funds LIV Golf, to invest perhaps as much as 10 figures into the PGA Tour.
This obviously raises all kinds of questions the future of golf and the roles of all the aforementioned parties going forward. Let's dig into a few of these issues as the Rahm development settles across the sport's landscape.
Why would Jon Rahm defect to LIV Golf?
Rahm has repeatedly stood as one of the PGA Tour's most outspoken players since LIV Golf formed. He has cited numerous reasons for standing against the league, and his rant at the 2022 U.S. Open encapsulated most of them.
The money is reportedly astronomical -- more than $300 million, perhaps as much as double that -- but Rahm said a sum above even $400 million would not materially change his life. Whether that's true is irrelevant, though he did admit Thursday during a Fox News interview that money played into his decision.
"It was a great offer. The money is great. Obviously, it's wonderful," he explained. "But what I said before is true: I do not play golf for the money. I play golf for the love of the game and for the love of golf. But as a husband, as a father and as a family man, I have a duty to my family to give them the best opportunities and the most amount of resources possible. And that's where that comes in. Obviously, it is a factor, and it was an important one, obviously, in this decision."
Rahm's previous stance hinted at a different reason he might have chosen the PGA Tour, where he's played since turning pro in 2016.
There has always been a hint of frustration from Rahm toward the friendly group of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and others, many of whom have helped lead the PGA Tour -- both publicly and privately -- over the last few years. An unsubstantiated theory is that Rahm has always felt like he's on their level on the course (true) but not respected or treated like it off the course in terms of how much weight his voice carries.
That may not be a good reason to leave for LIV Golf, but it's certainly a reason that goes beyond money and the spoils that will undoubtedly come with being the league's biggest fish.
There's another half-baked idea out there that Rahm was tired of the PGA Tour dodging a deal with the PIF while courting other investors. So perhaps he took the money as a means of pushing the organizations together. That one requires several steps and seems less plausible but certainly not impossible.
Why would LIV Golf spend nine figures on Jon Rahm?
This is tough to figure. If the PIF is about to spend $1 billion or more to invest into the PGA Tour in the aforementioned agreement, what would motivate it, through LIV Golf, to spend a quarter of that sum just to get a player it would have gotten anyway in the new deal.
There are two potential reasons.
1. Leverage: Now that Rahm is signed with LIV Golf, the PIF could attempt to gain a larger percentage of the pie in its negotiation with the PGA Tour. If a $1 billion investment would have previously netted it, say, 30%, perhaps the PIF now has enough leverage to increase that stake to 35%. Or perhaps the play is not so much about the stake in the new golf body but rather ensuring specific terms of the agreement are met. For example, the PIF has been pushing for team golf to be an important part of the long-term future of the sport, but the PGA Tour has been resistant.
2. Power: This is far more nefarious, of course. If the PGA Tour is indeed trying to find investors other than the PIF, this is a reminder that the PIF will make life miserable by taking all the best players from the PGA Tour -- especially now that the PGA Tour can no longer play the morality card given its own detente with the PIF -- if it agrees to a deal with another financial backer.
This is something Todd Lewis insinuated Thursday on Golf Channel.
Either way, Rahm represents a significant bargaining chip as the PIF attempts to ensure its agreement with the PGA Tour includes as many of its own terms as possible.
Wait, I thought this deal already transpired?
The PIF and the PGA Tour, essentially, have only agreed to drop all litigation with one another while setting a deadline of Dec. 31 to complete their agreement. Nobody knows what that deal would ultimately look like -- could the PGA Tour and LIV Golf actually coexist under the same umbrella? -- but for now, they remains separate entities.
There has also been some confusion about this truce. Originally, the two organizations agreed to not swipe one another's players. However, that section of the framework agreement was removed this summer because of antitrust concerns from the United States Department of Justice.
Is John Rahm still eligible for majors?
Rahm is indeed eligible for all the majors for the next several years, even if his Official World Golf Ranking plummets. The organizations that run these tournaments have not banned LIV Golf players. The biggest event he would not be eligible to play would be the Players Championship. Let's take a look at Rahm's current eligibility for each major:
- Masters -- Life (based on Masters win)
- PGA Championship -- 4fouryears (based on Masters win)
- U.S. Open -- eight years (based on 2021 U.S. Open win)
- Open Championship -- four years (based on Masters win)
As for the Ryder Cup, that's a bit messier. Several veteran golf stars like Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood were not allowed to play in the Ryder Cup because they resigned their memberships to the European Tour. However, the European Tour -- which runs the European side of the Ryder Cup -- recently allowed Bernd Wiesberger to return after playing LIV Golf, so it does not seem as if relations are as frosty with the European Tour as they are with the PGA Tour.
Obviously, this is something that will change over time. If the PGA Tour and PIF eventually merge, it is presumed that everyone will be allowed to once again play in the Ryder Cup.
What does this mean for the future of golf?
There are two paths forward. Either the PGA Tour and the PIF merge -- leading the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to play under the same umbrella -- or the PGA Tour rejects the PIF, takes investment elsewhere and remains at odds with the PIF.
The path of least resistance seems more likely and is seemingly what the power players on both sides want. The second path would be a mess.
The golf audience is not big enough to support two prominent leagues, especially at the level of money at which they're both operating, which means that one would eventually be phased out. And for the first time perhaps ever, it might be the PGA Tour at risk given the unlimited bank account the PIF brings to the table.
All of this is a loss for golf fans. Rickie Fowler said as much Thursday.
"Ultimately, down the road, division isn't a good thing," he said. "I'm hopeful things will continue to work in the right direction for the greater of the game. But what that is, I don't know. I wish I could tell you. We're kind of all on this ride together and kind of figuring out and learning as we go."
The majors will mean more than ever, but everything else will mean less with the departure of Rahm (and perhaps others) as long as an agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF has not yet been reached.