With each passing moment, it looks more and more likely that Jon Rahm is set to join LIV in what would be by far the Saudi backed league’s greatest coup.
The reigning Masters champion has been consistent in his denials of having any interest in making a move, but if reports are to be believed, that position has changed, and he’s set to sign a five-year deal worth $300 million up front and he’ll own a 25% stake in his own team.
The June 06 announcement that LIV and the PGA and DP World Tours were dropping all legal proceedings against one another and intended to merge will likely be seen as one of the decisive factors in Rahm’s change of heart, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of the positions that Rahm had previously taken.
Shortly after the now infamous extract from Alan Shipnuck’s book Phil: The Rip-Roaring Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Character which effectively threw a depth charge into the well-advanced formation of LIV Golf, PGA Tour players far and wide moved to distance themselves from the new league.
Few suspected that Rahm was one of those poised to go, but nevertheless, he was asked about it at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
“This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour,” Rahm said. “I’m a PAC member, and I have a lot of belief in (commissioner) Jay Monahan and the product that they’re going to give us in the future. There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”
The LIV conversation continued to dominate much of the narrative any time the big guns appeared in front of a microphone, and at the US Open, shortly after LIV staged their first event at London’s Centurion Club, defending champion Rahm was once again quizzed about his interest levels.
“Yeah, money is great,” he said, “but when Kelly and I, this first thing happened, we started talking about it and we’re like, ‘Would our lifestyle change if we got $400 million?’ No. It would not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now and I could live a very happy life and not play golf again. I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world.”
He went on to explain how much history and legacy weighed on his lack of interest in LIV. “I have always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that,” he explained. “There’s a meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There’s a meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win LA, Torrey, some of these historic venues. That to me matters a lot. After winning this past U.S. Open, only me and Tiger have won at Torrey Pines. Making putts on 18 – that’s a memory that I’m gonna have forever that not many people can say.”
“My heart is with the PGA Tour,” he added. “That’s all I can say. It’s not my business or my character to judge anybody who thinks otherwise. And for a lot of people, I’m not gonna lie, those next three, four years are worth, basically, their retirement plan. It’s a very nice compensation until they retire and sail off into the sunset.”
Whilst Rahm’s own position had shown no signs of changing, Sergio Garcia and other LIV players’ resignations from the DP World Tour all but confirmed that they would not be eligible for Ryder Cup selection and Rahm had some choice words on the situation.
“I’m going to miss him,” he said of Garcia whom he partnered in the most recent Ryder Cup. “We had a great partnership at Whistling Straits. I’m going to mention history again one more time.
“A Spanish duo in the Ryder Cup I think to me is embedded into the roots of the Ryder Cup. Look with Seve (Ballesteros) and Ollie (José María Olazábal) were able to do throughout their partnership, right. So it’s a little sad to me that politics have gotten in the way of such a beautiful event.”
“Again, it’s the best Europeans against the best American, period,” he went on. “And whatever is going on, who is playing LIV and who is not playing LIV to me shouldn’t matter. It’s whoever is best suited to represent the European side. And I have a hard time to believe that the best player Europe has ever had, the most successful player Europe has had on the Ryder Cup isn’t fit to be on the team.”
An announcement is made that the PGA and DP World Tours have signed a framework agreement to merge with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, the financial entity who provide the funding for LIV Golf.
This comes as a shock to the media and PGA Tour players alike, all of whom were kept in the dark as negotiations were ongoing in the background. This lead to widespread dissention in the PGA Tour ranks, with many players feeling blindsided by the clandestine talks and announcement and some of the more vocal critics of LIV and steadfast supporters of the PGA Tour feeling like ‘sacrificial lambs.’
Talking to Spanish media brand Golf Sin Etiquetas, Rahm again laughed at speculation that his support for Garcia’s Ryder Cup eligibility and close friendship with Phil Mickelson was an indicator that he may be tempted by a move to LIV.
“Phil Mickelson respects my decision and I respect his decision,” Rahm said in his native tongue. “He has told me that I have no reason to go to LIV. And he has told me that several times.”
“I laugh when people rumor me with LIV. I’ve never liked the format,” he added.
Following his decision to withdraw his commitment to join the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy founded TGL, rumours again begin to circulate that not only is Rahm in discussions with LIV Golf, but that a financial agreement had been reached and that changes to the LIV format was the remaining sticking point.
The rumours emerge after the DP World Tour Championship where Rahm finishes fifth and are first reported on Spanish website ten-golf.com and several other sources confirm that the rumours were doing the rounds in Dubai.
For the following fortnight, Rahm is conspicuous by his absence in public, neither confirming nor denying the rumours, but Jordan Spieth, speaking at the Hero World Challenge on December 01 addressed the rumours suggesting that Rahm may be weighing decisions although he was unaware as to whether any decisions had been made.