Jon Rahm’s defection to LIV will spur PGA Tour to seal deal with Saudis | Ewan Murray
TThis has long been a perceived problem with too many alpha males in golf's most prominent circles. Rory McIlroy has admitted he even turns to Tiger Woods when an adult discussion is needed. McIlroy's longstanding position as unofficial shop steward for the PGA Tour while the threat of LIV hovered meant others turned to him for advice. Jon Rahm has never been the type to back down while coming forward, which would probably inevitably irritate if others in the locker room came across in a more statesmanlike manner during the never-ending Gulf Civil War. Rahm has ego.
The way Rahm could take over his peers — or even Woods, arguably the greatest player of all time — has always been clear: beat them. Two big wins are half of McIlroy's tally. Woods claimed 15. Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth have outperformed Rahm at golf's biggest levels. If Rahm has taken issue with the headlines generated by McIlroy and Woods in particular, it serves as the kind of grudge that golfers can use to their own enormous advantage inside the ropes.
Instead, Rahm now appears little more than a pawn in Saudi Arabia's dubious dance on the fairways. His apparent impending move to LIV – will he join the Smashers, the Bashers, the Rangegoats or the Mountaingoats? – comes at a time when the PGA Tour is looking to close a deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, apparently by December 31. The need for that deal to happen, against the backdrop of alternatives, has only increased now that LIV has apparently shown that it can poach another major player from the PGA Tour. The deal will generally make no business sense, with a value between $300 million and $600 million. It serves as a reminder to the golf establishment that Saudi investors have no interest in leaving or being screwed over. Woods' talk of 'options' at the PGA Tour business table will raise eyebrows in Riyadh.
It's fair to assume there can't be many more exorbitant LIV deals left. Rahm will strike while the commercial iron is red hot. His close relationship with Phil Mickelson and, to a lesser extent, Sergio García always made LIV participation possible. The Rebels tour needs the kind of mainstream relevance it continues to fight for, especially in Britain and the US.
However, Rahm's tag is tricky because of his aforementioned stance, more than once. He will be accused of gross hypocrisy. “I laugh when people tell me that I have LIV,” the Spaniard said in a podcast in his home country a few months ago. “I never liked the format.”
Rahm had “officially declared” for the PGA Tour in early 2022. Later that year he insisted that money was irrelevant to him. “I play for the love of the game.” He always seemed one of the sport's great traditionalists, inspired by the legacy of Seve Ballesteros.
Indeed, money may not matter to Rahm. His Masters win in April cemented his place among golf's top earners. He could blunder for the rest of his career – an unlikely prospect – and still have tens, if not hundreds, of millions to fall back on.
Rahm will inevitably argue that this is about much more than dollar signs. People have the right to change their minds. Like Cameron Smith, he has recently achieved great success that guarantees several elements of future participation. In a Ryder Cup Europe player group chat that welcomed Luke Donald's reappointment as captain, Rahm told his teammates he would be back in place at Bethpage in 2025. If Rahm does transfer, he should certainly be confident, not just in regards to his own continued performance. but that wave will be so tailored that he will not be denied participation. Donald was hired as captain due to Henrik Stenson moving to LIV, meaning it would be a bit awkward if Rahm were brought back into the team.
In his defense, Rahm was scathing about the way the PGA Tour finalized a framework agreement with PIF in June. The 29-year-old said he had lost confidence in PGA Tour leadership because of the secretive way the deal was done. This is by no means an isolated sentiment; it will be a shock if PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan remains in place as the sport enters a new era.
What on earth that looks like is unclear. McIlroy, Rahm and Woods will – fitness permitting – compete at the Masters in April. That's why Saudi investors continue to flex their muscles and the limited golf audience has their eyes pulled in all directions. Rahm is the cause of nothing more than his apparent courtship, instead symptomatic of a chaotic scene.