This is the moment when everything becomes normal. When it will no longer be a spectacle, a controversy or even a taboo. When it’s not about right or wrong or strong opinions or attacking the man. Jon Rahm’s move to LIV Golf is imminent and seems like definitive confirmation that this is simply the way things are. This is what the world of golf will be like.
Because this isn’t someone chasing profit like Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka. And he’s not a pariah who disdains 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 they hit, who worships his idols childhood Spaniards like Seve Ballasteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. He is the same person who denied the LIV rumors in the summer of 2022 by saying that he and his wife agreed that the LIV money would not 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. This, 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 Arabian Public Investment Fund (the financiers of LIV), the tables turned. Yes, in the short term, it put an end to the countless lawsuits and temporarily ended the poaching of LIV players. But it also had two other unintended consequences. First, it led players to lose faith in Monahan, which he is unlikely to ever regain. But the least discussed outcome is what could have brought us to this moment: striking a deal with the PIF normalized the situation. And removing that taboo could have eliminated the best defense on the PGA Tour.
Let’s go back a little. You might be thinking, “Aren’t the PGA Tour and PIF working to reach an agreement? Why does LIV continue to prey on poachers?” This is a key question. The June 6 framework agreement set a December 31 deadline for pursuing a good faith deal. The detail that’s hard to know from the outside is how good it is faith and whether they are close to an agreement. Already in October, AtleticoBrendan Quinn reported that sources on both sides were doubtful whether a deal would be achieved. And it’s no secret that the PGA Tour has been talking to other investors about contingency plans in case it loses the billions of dollars in Saudi funding (though some reports claim these investors could be in addition to the PIF).
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So why trap Rahm? What time? You could interpret this as LIV understanding that a deal might not happen and that it needs to continue to grow its product. That’s the simplest reasoning, and landing the reigning Masters champion and No. 3 in the world is by far the biggest attraction yet. One with a declared value of 566 million dollars, according to the Telegraph. LIV landed some all-time greats like Mickelson and Johnson. And he won over some current stars like Koepka and Cameron Smith. But depending on your opinion, Rahm could be the current best player in the world, and he’s right in his prime.
The other theory is that this is a bargaining chip. A huge and daunting bargaining chip. The PGA Tour has the leverage to woo other investors who already own the huge TV deals and all the sponsor relationships that LIV wants. LIV’s best leverage in negotiations may be to grab 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 will meet this week for negotiations, and perhaps in a month we will look back on this as the dramatic move that brought golf together. Maybe, just maybe.
But being naive is why the PGA Tour has found itself in such a problematic position, so for the sake of conversation let’s assume that Rahm just left the PGA Tour and the war is once again raging indefinitely.
This affects the tour in a much deeper and more troubling way. This is someone who once declared “my allegiance to the PGA Tour” and supported Monahan just three months ago, now taking stock of the situation and saying he thinks this is the best choice for his career. It’s so, so different. Because it is no longer this taboo and polarizing choice that shocks the world. Rahm thought it was his best move and that means it won’t be his last.
Maybe his victory at the Masters changed things. Rahm is a really hereditary guy. And now Rahm has a lifetime exemption to the Masters. His win at the 2021 U.S. Open puts him in that major through 2031, and he has another four-year exemption for the PGA Championship and Open Championship. So he’s still set for at least the next 16 majors, and I’m sure he assumes things will change by 2027 to give LIV players a better OWGR position.
It could be necessary. Because this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in agreeing to live in a world with two major golf leagues. If we were to be truly honest with ourselves, the PGA Tour would continue to dominate the golf landscape until 2023. It had all the best young players and the best three or four in the world, and it was certainly a shame that Koepka, Johnson, Smith and so they weren’t around every week, but we still saw them at the majors and it never seemed like a big deal. Rahm (and anyone else now defecting) gets us two watered down leagues closer. It’s bad for everyone.
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I would prefer LIV to be a good product. In the end, I accepted the defeat on a moral level and said that I would have liked to be able to watch Smith and Koepka, two golfers I really admire. At the moment LIV is a really poor product, from the courses to the presentation to the actual golf. Early reports about Rahm’s potential departure said that Rahm wanted assurances that LIV would change its format. It’s unclear if this is on the table, but OWGR isn’t budging on not giving points to a league that plays a full round less than others. Perhaps all this pushes LIV towards a better product.
But the simple fact that we are discussing wanting to improve LIV, the fact that we think of two championships and accept their coexistence brings us back to the heart of the matter. Joining the LIV is no longer scandalous. It won’t make you cancel. It’s just another drop in the slow trickle of the new normal.
Rahm was asked in August what change he would most like to see on the PGA Tour. It wasn’t a big deal, the kind that makes people leave. It wasn’t money, branding 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 over 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 he’s leaving all golf stuck in there.
(Top photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)