GOLF

Jon Rahm leaving PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf

Dec 7, 2023, 3:40 PM | Updated: 6:07 pm

Jon Rahm is joining LIV golf...

Jon Rahm of Spain reacts with a ball wave on the 16th green during the final round of the The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 19, 2023 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Masters champion Jon Rahm bolted for Saudi-funded LIV Golf on Thursday for what’s believed to be more money than the PGA Tour’s entire prize fund, a stunning blow that deepens the divide in golf as the two sides were negotiating a commercial deal.

Rahm confirmed the move in an interview with Fox News. Wearing a black letterman’s jacket with the LIV logo, he said it was not an easy decision.

“I’ve been very happy,” Rahm said. “But there is a lot of things that LIV Golf has to offer that were very enticing.”

He said he would keep private how much the deal was worth amid reports that put his compensation in the $500 million range, which likely would include equity in his new team. The PGA Tour’s total purse in 2023 was about $460 million.

The development comes 25 days before the deadline for the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund try to finalize their June 6 agreement to become commercial partners in a for-profit enterprise, along with the European tour.

Talks have been going slowly, and Tiger Woods said last week there were a lot of moving parts. The biggest moving part turned out to be the 29-year-old Rahm, the No. 3 player in the world and a two-time major champion approaching his prime, being the latest to defect.

Rahm had been adamant that he has enough money and that he cares only about history and legacy. He recently said he “laughed” whenever he saw his name linked to LIV.

“It was a great offer. The money is great, obviously it’s wonderful,” Rahm said. “But what I said before is true: I do not play golf for the money. I play golf for the love of the game and for the love of golf. But, as a husband, as a father and as a family man I have a duty to my family to give them the best opportunities and the most amount of resources possible and that is where that comes in.”

He remains eligible for the majors for the next five years — the Masters for life, the U.S. Open until 2031. Still to be determined is how the move affects his eligibility for the Ryder Cup.

“It’s hard to sit here and criticize Jon because of what a great player he is,” Rory McIlroy said in an interview with Sky Sports. “Jon is going to be in Bethpage in 2025 (for the Ryder Cup). Because of this decision, the European tour is going to have to rewrite the rules. There’s no question about that.”

Rahm’s addition gives LIV Golf seven of the last 14 winners at the majors.

“LIV Golf is here to stay,” Lawrence Burian, the COO of LIV Golf, said in a news release sent out after Rahm’s appearance on Fox News.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan had been scheduled to meet this week with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the PIF. The meeting was delayed until next week, but it wasn’t clear if it was still on or how Rahm’s announcement affects the negotiations.

Since the stunning commercial partnership was proposed on June 6, the tour has also entertained offers from private equity groups. Those include Fenway Sports Group and Acorn Growth, which includes former AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson. He resigned from the PGA Tour board out of protest with its deal with Saudi Arabia.

The agreement originally included language to end the poaching of players, but that was removed when the Justice Department had antitrust concerns.

Signing with LIV is counter to everything Rahm has said about the league. He has declared his support for the PGA Tour dating to February 2022, and as recently as August he told a Spanish podcast that “I laugh when people rumor me with LIV Golf. I’ve never liked the format.”

He had said 54 holes with no cut and a shotgun start “is not a golf tournament.”

“I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years,” he said at the U.S. Open last year. “That’s what I want to see.”

He sang a different tune in the Fox interview, saying while money was a factor, there were other elements “that make it so exciting.”

“Once you get past that, the love of the game, wanting to grow it to a global market and be part of a team, be a captain and hopefully being a leader to teammates, it is something that is so, so special,” Rahm said.

Rahm said he looked forward to having conversation with LIV leaders about potential changes he would like to see, even if he has to wait.

“My goal with this is to grow the game of golf, to make it better — whatever that may be,” he said. “I’m an ambitious person, but I’m not a greedy one. I know I can’t have everything, so there are some things I will have to sacrifice and for right now, that seems like one that I can live with.”

The PGA Tour said in a statement that its focus remains on “unifying the game for our fans and our players.”

“We can’t speak for decisions that any individual players might make but based on the momentum of the past season and strength of the PGA Tour, along with the accelerated interest from and negotiations with a number of outside investors, we are in position to make our players equity owners and further allow the tour to invest in our members, invest in our fans and continue to lead men’s professional golf forward,” it said.

Players typically are suspended when they play — the next LIV season starts Feb. 2 — although public promotion of a rival league can lead to immediate suspension unless Rahm chooses to resign from the PGA Tour.

That would leave him only four majors a year to compete against the likes of McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and the rest of the top 10 in the world ranking.

“Nobody is forcing us to do this. This is our own choice,” Rahm said. “And if the product wasn’t good, I don’t think people would be making this jump. I certainly wouldn’t be doing it because, again, I have had a great platform on the PGA Tour and I’m forever grateful for the platform that they’ve given me. If lucky, and things go well in the future, I still want to be part of that platform.”

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