What Jon Rahm’s shocking move to LIV means for the future of golf

This is the moment when everything becomes normal. When it is no longer a spectacle, a controversy or even a taboo. When it’s not about right or wrong, strong opinions or sticking to man. Jon Rahm’s move to LIV Golf is imminent and seems like the final confirmation that this is how things are. This will be the world of golf.

Because this isn’t someone chasing a payday like Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka. And he’s not a pariah who despises the PGA Tour like Phil Mickelson.

This is a golf nerd. An obsessive. A 29-year-old golf history buff who gets up at 6 a.m. before the kids get up to rewatch tournaments on YouTube, who pesters golfers during rounds to learn more about famous shots that they have made, which venerates their Spanish childhood idols such as Seve Ballasteros. and José María Olazábal. He is the same person who shut down LIV rumors in the summer of 2022 by saying that he and his wife agreed that LIV money wouldn’t change their lives at all. “I’ve always been very interested in history and legacy,” Rahm said, “and right now the PGA Tour has that.”

right now. That, in retrospect, was the key choice of words.

The moment Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour went behind the players’ backs and made a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (LIV’s financiers), the calculus changed. Yes, in the short term, it put an end to countless lawsuits and temporarily put an end to LIV player poaching. But it also had two other unintended consequences. First, it led to the players losing trust in Monahan, something he is unlikely to regain. But the less discussed outcome is what could have brought us to this moment: reaching an agreement with the PIF normalized it. And removing that taboo could have eliminated the PGA Tour’s best defense.

Let’s back up a little. You might be thinking, “Aren’t the PGA Tour and PIF working to reach an agreement? Why is LIV still poaching players? That is a key question. The June 6 framework agreement set a deadline of December 31 to reach an agreement in good faith. The detail that is difficult to know from the outside is how good that faith is and if they are close to reaching an agreement. Already in October, The AthleticBrendan Quinn reported that sources on both sides had doubts a deal would be reached. And it’s no secret that the PGA Tour has been talking to other investors as contingency plans if it loses the billions of dollars in Saudi funding (although some reports claim those investors could be in addition to the PIF).

GO DEEPER

Ambition meets survival: PGA Tour, Saudi PIF and the deal to shape the future of golf

So why snag Rahm? Because right now? It could be taken as LIV understanding that a deal may not be reached and that it needs to continue growing its product. That’s the simplest reasoning, and landing the reigning Masters champion and No. 3 player in the world is by far the biggest draw yet. One valued at 566 million dollars, according to The Telegraph. LIV has landed some all-time greats like Mickelson and Johnson. And it has landed some current stars like Koepka and Cameron Smith. But depending on your opinion, Rahm could be the best player in the world and he is in his prime.


Jon Rahm, left, joined Brooks Koepka as PGA Tour stars to join LIV. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The other theory is that it is a bargaining chip. A huge and discouraging bargaining chip. The PGA Tour has the advantage of intermediating with other investors, who already have the big television deals and all the sponsor relationships that LIV craves. LIV’s best leverage in negotiations might be to take superstars like Rahm, among others, and force the PGA Tour back to the table for substantive negotiations. Do you want your star back? Make a deal. Monahan and PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan are scheduled to meet this week to negotiate, and maybe in a month we will all remember this as the dramatic move that brought golf together. Maybe just maybe.

But being naïve is why the PGA Tour got into such a problematic position in the first place, so for the sake of conversation, let’s assume that Rahm just left the PGA Tour and the war continues indefinitely.

This one comes to the tour in a much deeper and more worrying way. He is someone who once declared “my loyalty to the PGA Tour” and supported Monahan just three months ago and now takes stock of the situation and says he believes this is the best option for his career. He is so, so different. Because it is no longer this taboo and polarizing election that shocks the world. Rahm simply thought it was the best move and that means it won’t be the last.

Maybe his victory at the Masters changed things. Rahm is a guy with a lot of legacy. And now Rahm has a lifetime exemption to the Masters. His victory at the 2021 US Open takes him into that major until 2031, and he has four more years of exemptions to the PGA Championship and Open Championship. So he’s still ready for the next 16 majors, at least, and I’m sure he assumes things will change by 2027 to ensure LIV players get a better position in OWGR.

Maybe it’s necessary. Because this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back to accept that we live in a world with two major golf leagues. If we were really honest with ourselves, the PGA Tour still owned the golf landscape until 2023. It had the best young players and the three or four best in the world, and it sure was a shame that Koepka, Johnson, Smith and So We were not present every week, but we still saw them in the older ones and it never seemed like a big problem to us. Rahm (and whoever now deserts) brings us within two diluted leagues. This is bad for everyone.

go deeper

GO DEEPER

Tiger Woods is back. Only the future of golf is at stake

I would prefer LIV to be a good product. In the end, I accepted the defeat from my moral point of view and said that I would like to be able to see Smith and Koepka, two golfers who I appreciate very much. As of now, LIV is a really poor product, from the courses to the presentation to the golf itself. Early reports about Rahm’s possible departure said that Rahm wanted assurances that LIV would alter its format. It’s unclear if that’s on the table, but OWGR is adamant about not giving points to a league that plays an entire round less than the others. Maybe all this will make LIV a better product.

But the mere fact that we even want to argue that LIV is better, the reality that we are thinking of two leagues and accepting their coexistence simply brings us back to the true point. Joining LIV is no longer a scandal. They won’t cancel you. It’s just another drop in the slow drip of the new normal.

In August, Rahm was asked what change he would most like to see on the PGA Tour. It wasn’t a widespread problem, the kind that makes people leave. It wasn’t money, brand or format.

“I know this is going to sound really stupid,” Rahm said, “but it’s as simple as having a damn Port-a-Potty on every hole. “I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t choose when I have to go to the bathroom.”

Rahm wasn’t trying to escape the PGA Tour. He was just ready to go to LIV, and you can’t help but think that leaves all of golf caught up in that.

(Top photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)