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Jon Rahm’s LIV move the latest reminder that golf is not big enough to be fighting among itself for audiences

Rahm’s defection won’t bring a big slice of the viewing public with him - the people who watch golf have lost an interesting player to a world they’ll never visit

You fools. You were watching the Jon Rahm news, weren’t you? You were doomscrolling for clips of him on Fox News, as he tried to find new ways to not say he was moving to LIV for the $400 million or whatever it was. Meanwhile, the real ones, the proper LIV devotees – we were keeping an eye on the big transfer between Smash and the Range Goats.

Not a punk band, since you ask.

No, Smash and the Range Goats are two of the LIV Golf teams and while the attention of the golfing world was on Rahm late on Thursday, these two storied franchises pulled off a trade ahead of the 2024 LIV season. Matthew Wolff left Smash for the Range Goats and Talor Gooch went the other way. Or maybe it was vice-versa.

Whatever it was, it was a trade for the ages. You may not keep a close eye on this kind of thing but Gooch was actually the best player on the whole LIV scene last year. He won three times, he finished top of their points list and he got an $18 million bonus for his season’s endeavours. Wolff, by contrast, was fairly hopeless all year. He finished 27th on the LIV list and managed just three top-10s.

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But now they’ve swapped teams. Just like that. Smash didn’t have to send 50 mil the way of the Range Goats to get Gooch across the line, it wasn’t Wolff plus add-ons or anything like that. Just a basic staffing issue within a company, like your friend Annie moving from finance to accounts. This facsimile of high-end sport pretty much sums up the world of nonsense Rahm has decided to attach himself to.

Just as a quick aside, the other thing that happened midweek was that Rahm’s new boss, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, welcomed Vladimir Putin to Riyadh. The Rahm thing has been in the ether for weeks now. Amazing really that the Saudis got it done just in time to announce and get golf on to the serious news channels while his new paymaster was taking tea with Vlad The Invader.

Just as a quick aside to the quick aside, Roman Abramovich must have watched that whole scene play out with a wry smile. As soon as Putin invaded Ukraine, Abramovich had to divest himself of Chelsea quicker than the Premier League could say “Nyet!” But here’s the owner of Newcastle, the club that has more or less taken Chelsea’s spot at the big boys’ table, merrily greeting the warmonger’s warmonger and not a dicky bird out of the league in response. Mad world.

Anyway, golf. The Rahma-Drama. The Great Rahmectomy. Jon’s Gone, baby. So now what?

Well, here’s a question for you. Yes, you Ms or Mr Golf Watcher. How is Rahm moving to LIV going to change your viewing habits? Will you watch fewer PGA Tour tournaments? Will you watch more LIV tournaments? Or will you continue to do what you’ve generally always done – watch the majors and the Ryder Cup, tune in a bit to Sky on the weekends, never really give pro golf a single other thought in between times?

Because this is the reality that golf, as a sport, doesn’t quite seem to grasp right now as it continues to cannibalise itself. Golf is a niche sport. It’s an afterthought. There is no country in the world where it is considered to be the number one attractor of sporting eyeballs. Even those of us who are into it – far too into it, some of us – wouldn’t fight anyone for the remote on a non-Major weeknight. Even on a weekend, we’d generally pick our battles.

And if you think it’s down the pecking order here, you’d be stunned by how low it is on the totem pole in the US, which is nominally the very turf over which the two sides in golf’s civil war are fighting. Rahm’s Masters victory in April, which was free to air on CBS, had the highest audience of any televised golf event for five years, averaging out at just more than 12 million viewers. Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship win in May had an average audience of just 4.5 million.

For a comparison on how that rates, last Sunday’s NFL match on CBS – a thoroughly run-of-the-mill arm wrestle between two middling teams in the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans – garnered 14 million viewers.

The later game between Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers had an average audience of 24 million. And though that was between two of the heavyweights of the current campaign, it was still just a regular-season clash with nothing remotely do-or-die on the line. And yet twice as many people watched it as watched golf’s biggest event of the year.

Golf just isn’t that big a presence on the American sporting landscape. Nascar recently signed a seven-year broadcasting deal that brought in $1.1 billion per year for the next seven years. The PGA Tour’s latest equivalent is only worth $400 million a year. Rahm essentially just got the same for switching employers.

The point is this. Golf is not a big enough sport to smash itself into pieces and presume there’s going to be a market for each and every one of them. Rahm is a magnificent golfer and has always been someone worth rooting for. But the idea that a big slice of golf’s TV audience is going to follow him over to LIV to see how he fares against the Range Goats is preposterous.

All that has happened here is that the golf that golf-watchers actually watch has lost yet another of its more interesting players. It will make no difference to the casual fan who just watches the majors. It will make no difference to LIV. It will only mean that golf continues to eat itself. Big sports can do that kind of thing and get away with it, safe in the knowledge that the audiences will keep coming back. Golf is not a big sport.

The longer it plays at being one, the more trouble it will buy for itself.