On Thursday, Jon Rahm donned a LIV Golf Letterman Jacket and announced on Fox News that he would be joining LIV Golf, the tour backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF). This came after Rahm spent 18 months dismissing rumors and publicly supporting the PGA Tour.
Rahm’s addition represents LIV’s biggest signing to date. It now has one of the best and most popular players in the game. Rahm is healthy and squarely in the prime of his career. The deal is rumored to be worth between $300 and 600 million and include a 25% equity position in Rahm’s own LIV team franchise. (It has not yet been announced which team he will be captaining.) Rahm’s departure is also, obviously, a catastrophic loss for the PGA Tour.
Rahm is the first departure to the upstart league since February and the first player of note to leave the PGA Tour since Cameron Smith defected shortly after winning the 2022 Open Championship. This move by LIV will surely reignite the talent war with the PGA Tour that dominated golf news from May of 2022 until the announcement of the “Framework Agreement” in June of 2023. Rahm gives the Saudi Public Investment Fund and LIV Tour arguably the most momentum they have ever had, especially with respect to “Framework Agreement” negotiations. LIV Golf now has three of the last five major winners under contract and appears to be in the player acquisition market again after a few months off.
What Motivated Rahm
As we have seen throughout this process, almost every professional golfer has a number and LIV Golf got to Jon Rahm’s. During his Fox News interview, he spoke about having to do the right thing for his family. This money will set up the Rahm family for generations. The 29 year-old has been arguably the best golfer in the world over the past five years racking up two majors and 11 other wins, but even with all of his success, he hasn’t come close to making $300 million on the course.
Rahm will now be the face of LIV Golf. That position that may appeal to him. As long as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were around, the PGA Tour was never going to be Rahm’s show, no matter how much he won. Now, at LIV, along with Brooks Koepka, he’s going to be the star that drives—or fails to drive—interest in what, so far, has been an iffy product.
The lack of a pathway into golf’s major championships due to the OWGR’s decision to not award points to LIV tournaments has surely been a deterrent for PGA Tour players who have thought about making the jump. But because of his 2023 Masters win, Rahm will be exempt into every major for five years. One has to believe that some sort of a resolution regarding LIV players and major championship qualification will be reached before then.
Since LIV’s launch, Rahm had been beating back rumors that he might defect. In February 2022, he said: “I wanted to take this time to say that this is my official, my one and only time to talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour.” In June of 2022, he said: “shotgun, three days to me is not a golf tournament.” During his Fox News interview, his tone changed. He said: “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.” Money talks.
What Motivated LIV
It’s been clear from the start that LIV valued star players more than anything else. With Rahm, they got one of the five most marketable players in the world for their tour. (Rahm finished 3rd in the 2023 PIP.) He, along with Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith, represent a growing list of LIV players in their prime who are first-page favorites at major championships.
This coup could also factor into the ongoing Framework Agreement conversations with the PGA Tour. Since the Framework Agreement was announced in June, a few things have happened. First, the PIF extended a substantial investment offer to the PGA Tour. Then, the PGA Tour decided to open up bidding to a number of private equity outfits and see what its options were. This process yielded a number of paths, some that included the PIF as an investment partner and some that excluded them from the deal entirely.
Poaching Rahm could be a part of the PIF’s strategy to either get the PGA Tour to take the current deal or force them to offer the PIF even more favorable terms. I can’t imagine the Public Investment Fund wants to continue to run LIV, a tour that costs an exorbitant amount of money and has a small number of fans. They created LIV with the end goal of getting a seat at the table and this could be the move that ultimately ensures they get that seat.
Also, now it’s not laughable to think about which tour has more talent. This hadn’t been much of a question to date, with the majority of talent residing on the PGA Tour. But the Rahm signing swings the scales far closer to even. Stars are important, and with Koepka, Smith, and now Rahm, LIV has some true blue chippers.
How I Feel About All of This
I can’t help but be sad about the state of professional golf. Professional golf is a small sport. And small sports are at their strongest when all the top athletes are competing with each other. As long as golf remains divided, fans will become increasingly alienated. Golf, with every great pro in one place, had enough trouble attracting fans. How can it be expected to grow its fanbase with its talent pool split in two?
And as this war between LIV and the PGA Tour goes on, absurd amounts of money will continue to be thrown at the top players at a rate that cannot be sustained. The greed of the top players could wring all the money out of the professional game. The PGA Tour does not have unlimited money and the PIF surely can’t have unlimited interest in golf. The two sides have to reach an agreement soon. Professional golf can’t afford to have them fight forever.
This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.