What has happened and what does it mean for golf?
Jon Rahm has signed for LIV Golf for a $300 million deal for three years. The signing of the Spaniard shifts the balance of world golf, and put further strain on the PGA Tour’s claims to have most of the best players in the world.
Is Rahm really good enough to do that?
Yes, he is. His two majors and multiple DP and PGA Tour wins speak to that. One statistic that shows his consistent brilliance is that in his career he has had 20 wins and only 15 missed cuts. No other top golfer in the past 20 years has a positive win to missed cuts ratio other than Tiger Woods. He made the Masters a procession this year, briefly ignited the British Open Championship with a third round 63, and was unbeatable at times at the Ryder Cup.
“It would be really not very good for us because we want to play against the best players in the world and that’s what Jon is,” Jordan Spieth admitted.
What does it mean for the LIV Tour?
LIV will add a 13th team to their roster with Rahm as captain, give him an ownership stake and recruit more PGA Tour players to join his team. Ten Golf, the Spanish golf website who first reported Rahm’s move to LIV was a possibility, have linked Ryder Cup teammate Tyrrell Hatton (world number 12) and Tony Finau (world number 21) to his new team. The PGA Tour will fear it will open the floodgates for more signings.
What has Rahm said in the past about LIV?
The Spaniard had “pledged his fealty” to his tour last year and has been in a crisis meeting about the PGA Tour’s future in Delaware.
“Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit,” he said then. “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.” As recently as August he said: “I laugh when people rumour me with LIV Golf. I’ve never liked the format.”
His tune changed with yesterday’s announcement “I made this decision because I believe it’s the best for me and my family,” he said. “Everybody I’ve been able to talk to has been really supportive of me, so I’m very comfortable with my decision.”
What could have changed his mind?
Perhaps a longer time to think about a deal that Marca called the “biggest in sports history”. It is an obscene amount of money and Rahm admitted as much.
“Money was one of the reasons. I mean, I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you, so it was definitely one of the reasons ... this decision was made for many reasons [like] what I thought was best for me, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great deal. Right? I had a really good offer in front of me, and it’s one of the reasons why I took it.”
The events of June 6 may have changed things for Rahm. The PGA Tour and DP World Tours announced a merger with the LIV owners, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, that included Yasir Al-Rumayyan joining the PGA Tour board of directors and leading the new business venture as chairman. After that announcement, Rahm said he felt betrayed by management. The merger is yet to be finalised.
“The landscape of golf changed on June 6, when the framework agreement was announced and I think because of that it made the jump from the PGA Tour to LIV a little easier for guys,” Rory McIlroy said.
Rahm has also been linked to Phil Mickelson since turning professional, his brother caddied for him when he began on tour. He is also friends with Sergio Garcia. Both are LIV players and may have helped turn his head.
What is the latest news on the PGA Tour-LIV merger?
That merger has had its difficulties with anti-trust authorities in the US, and with private equity groups looking to offer an alternative, it is not yet on entirely firm ground.
Tiger Woods, the PGA Tour’s top trump card, has got considerably more involved since June, and has joined the PGA Tour board as a player director. An opponent of the Saudi involvement and LIV golf, Woods said in a statement that player directors had recently met with “incredibly impressive investor groups” that were not private equity but “multi-decade orientated, strategic partners”. Patrick Cantlay is another player that is believed to be heavily involved in talks as CEO Jay Monahan’s decisions have come under fire.
“I think Jay has been a part of the direction, he understands what happened prior to that can’t happen again and won’t happen again,” Tiger Woods said last week.
That is where Rahm comes in as quite the statement coup for the Saudi PIF ahead of the deadline for the finalising of the merger on December 31. It tells the world they are not going anywhere, and the PGA Tour must decide whether to stick or twist, a difficult decision given the Saudi PIF’s financial might has already turned the heads of so many golfers. Stay hostile and risk being picked apart, join with them and risk becoming a feeder tour within the framework.
Who else benefits from the move?
Aside from Rahm, the Saudis and the other golfers on LIV, the Majors also benefit, making it even more essential viewing as the only place to see Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith and others take on the best of the PGA Tour. Rahm is already guaranteed in the Masters for life, the US Open for eight more years as a former champion, and the other Majors for four years through exemptions. If he wins another Major, which he will expect to, he will be further exempt.
Who is the biggest loser?
The biggest loser of all is the average golf fan. The PGA and DP World Tour’s talent has been hollowed out by Saudi advances on the game. Golf is a niche sport and Rahm’s move severely damages the appeal of the PGA Tour. As the tour goes to places like Torrey Pines and Riviera where Rahm excelled, the wonder will be “what would Rahm have done?” McIlroy spoke about the fears that it will weaken golf like boxing with its various world title belts, that competing tours will “divide the eyeballs” that are on the game.
Will it make people watch LIV?
After two seasons, LIV cannot get a substantial TV deal despite spending more than $1 billion on contracts. Broadcast on the lesser-known CW in the US, one of the tournaments last year was beaten for ratings by the Little League Softball World Series. Even if Saudi Arabia has unlimited funds, they need some sort of return on investment. The tour still has serious baggage and struggles to connect with a broader audience. They will hope Rahm helps to change that.