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Jon Rahm signs with LIV Golf

Our writers explore the fallout as the reigning Masters champion jumps from the PGA Tour

December 07, 2023
Masters 2023

J.D. Cuban

In a move that could reignite professional golf’s civil war, Jon Rahm has signed with LIV Golf.

The defection to the Saudi-backed circuit, rumored since the Ryder Cup in September, became official on Thursday, with Rahm announcing the decision on FOX News.

“Obviously the past two years there’s been a lot of evolving on the game of golf, things have changed a lot and so have I,” Rahm said in a call with reporters. “Seeing the growth of LIV Golf, seeing the evolution of LIV Golf and innovation is something that has really captured my attention.

"I think the growth that I’ve seen and how it’s become a global business, right, and how we can impact golf globally, and in a much meaningful way, is something that’s been very enticing. For all those things that I like about this movement, there’s always going to be some things that are not perfect, but that’s the situation in everybody’s life. With that said, it’s an ever-growing and ever-changing machine, right. So I’m hopeful that the leaders of LIV Golf might listen to some of my advice and maybe see some changes in the future for the better of the game.”

Terms of the contract Rahm has signed with LIV were not disclosed, and details of the team that he'll be playing for will be announced at a later date, according to LIV Golf release. Various reports have stated that Rahm is likely to be the captain of a new team on the LIV Tour and have an equity stake in the franchise.

The news comes just weeks after Rahm pulled out of the TGL, a PGA Tour-backed tech-infused golf league, for what he said were scheduling issues.

Rahm, 29, becomes the biggest in-his-prime star to sign with the fledgling league. He is coming off a career year, winning four times—highlighted by his triumph at the Masters—and scoring three points in four matches to guide Europe to victory at the Ryder Cup. Rahm, No. 3 in the World Ranking, has 20 titles around the globe, and by capturing the green jacket this spring became the first European to win both the Masters and U.S. Open.

A source has told Golf Digest that as Rahm contemplated a move to LIV, his camp sought assurance from the DP World Tour regarding how it could impact his future Ryder Cup status. In addition to holding PGA Tour membership, Rahm is also a member of the DP World Tour. 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.

"I don’t know what’s gonna come of it," Rahm said on Thursday. "It’s a big risk to take, but I’ve had it in consideration and again, I’m hopeful that I can be part of the team again. … I’m a very positive and hopeful person, so I hope for the best."

On numerous occasions since LIV Golf launched in June 2022, Rahm shut down questions about joining the nascent league. "Money is great, but when [wife] Kelley and I … this first thing happened, we started talking about it, and we're like, will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit," Rahm said at the 2022 U.S. Open. "Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I've made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So 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've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that."

His last previous comments on the matter were in August during a podcast appearance. “I laugh when people rumor me with LIV Golf,” Rahm said on the “Golf Sin Etiquetas” show. “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.”

Conversely, change continues to be dynamic across the landscape of the sport. In June, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s financial backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, announced a surprise framework agreement. The deal ended the antitrust litigation between the warring factions, although it opened up both entities to scrutiny from the United States government. Since the framework announcement, the PGA Tour has also been entertaining interest from several companies vying to provide financial backing. It remains unclear if this backing would be an alternative to PIF’s support or to supplement it in order to appease U.S. antitrust regulations. Nevertheless, the reality remains that the very money the PGA Tour warned its players not to take will be the money fueling the tour’s future.

However, negotiations between the tour and LIV have stalled in recent months, and poaching Rahm could end the detente between the two circuits.

Asked if his signing with LIV came out of frustration with the direction of the PGA Tour and with the reported stalemate in the negoatiions with LIV, Rahm said: “No, no, no, no, I’m forever grateful for the PGA Tour and the platform they’ve they’ve allowed me to be on. I have nothing bad to say about them. They’ve given me the opportunity to play the game that I’ve always wanted to play and compete at some great events. This is just more about me, and what I believe is best for for my career.”

The 2024 season will be LIV Golf’s third. Its 14-event schedule begins in February.

• • •

Despite the speculation in recent weeks, news of Rahm officially going to LIV Golf was still a bombshell. We posed four questions for various Golf Digest writers to get their reaction to the Rahm news and its fallout.

What is your immediate reaction?

It's tough to have an "immediate” reaction because it feels like this has been coming for a month. But the gut reaction is just one of almost fatalism, as in, a story that has been moving toward this conclusion for a long time. —Shane Ryan

Holy sh** is my immediate reaction. Even with the rumors and some indicators—his TGL resignation being paramount, his silence another—I withheld making any assumptions. So I’m still processing the monumental about-face here by one of the most respected voices of this generation. —Dave Shedloski

I shouldn’t be stunned, but I am. I’ve stunned that Rahm reversed course like this, I’m stunned at how quickly LIV has turned the tables on the PGA Tour, and I’m stunned at how much money is being reported. Again, I shouldn’t be stunned after all that’s happened the past couple years, but I still am. Six hundred MILLION?! We’re talking about a golfer here. A great golfer, but he’s still a golfer. —Alex Myers

Complete indifference at this point. Wake me up the morning of April 11. —Christopher Powers

Masters 2023

J.D. Cuban

Does this your change your opinion of Rahm?

Yeah, I'll admit that it does. Rahm has always struck me as one of the smarter, more thoughtful, more historically conscious players on PGA Tour. It's always been a pleasure to talk with him, and on top of that, he's an incredibly compelling athlete on the course. This one feels more like Graeme McDowell than Dustin Johnson, put it that way; after his well-publicized remarks from 2022, it's a little shocking to see an about-face of these proportions. —S.R.

No, because the PGA Tour in essence gave its blessing when it announced the framework agreement on June 6. What’s good for the goose has to be, uh, good for the Spaniard. Or anyone else. Look, he’s a smart young man. He had to take a look at the landscape here and figure it won’t be long before he’s welcomed back to the tour through a merger of some sort. —D.S.

When you put it up against some of his old quotes, it’s hard for it not to, but it’s very hard to blame him given the current position he’s in. It does seem like this is going to be a brilliant chess move on his part if an eventual merger occurs, and if he somehow worked out that he still gets to play in the Ryder Cup. —C.P.

Is this a bigger win for LIV or a bigger loss the PGA Tour?

In the near term, as far as the products are concerned, it's more of a loss for the PGA Tour. I can't imagine it's going to draw that many more viewers to LIV, but it absolutely dilutes the tour's product. In the long term, though, if this forces the tour to the negotiating table or speeds it to some other favorable conclusion, it can be a win for LIV, too. —S.R.

Much bigger win for LIV at the negotiating table. As for the tour, I think we seriously overestimate how much guys not named Tiger Woods mean to it. —C.P.

By far it’s a bigger loss for the PGA Tour. Make no mistake, this is an absolute disaster for Jay Monahan and crew. After an initial wave of players, the tour had pretty much stopped the bleeding, but this possibly opens them up for even more big-name defectors. For the first time ever, the PGA Tour is no longer the superpower in pro golf. I don’t think this move is enough to make LIV assume that role, but the tour’s strength takes a huge hit here—especially if more players leave. —A.M.

Does this help or hurt the PGA Tour-PIF negotiations?

My microcosmic take is that the tour will be very eager to move forward with the merger after this latest setback. And though it seems like LIV might have more leverage, they'll still want to merge with the tour for its U.S. cultural cachet, which they don't have right now, and to unify golf to start building something appealing. So it definitely helps. —S.R.

If by help we mean it helps get a deal done, then, yes, it “helps” the negotiations because it adds more urgency to the situation, particularly for the PGA Tour. PIF has a huge additional bargaining chip with Rahm. The tour has to feel like it’s been wounded. Guess we’ll know for sure by Dec. 31, but I have to think the push is on for everyone to claim golf is once again one big happy (?) family. —D.S.

I have no clue. Poaching a superstar from the entity you’re currently negotiating with? This whole thing is bonkers. You’d have to think it helps the Saudis in terms of leverage. LIV now has three of the top five players in the world and three of the past five major champions. While it has failed to gain much traction, it certainly can’t be viewed as some graveyard of past champions. And now it’s made it’s biggest move to date, which is basically the biggest move that was out there. There’s no question the PGA Tour needs to get this deal done now. —A.M.