While Jon Rahm said he remains hopeful the golf world will come together soon, his decision this week to jump from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf signaled the opposite to many of those around the game. Over the past six months, golf’s stakeholders have tried to sew the professional game back together, and with one swipe of a pen Thursday, the sutures were torn, reverting the sport to a state of chaos and uncertainty.
What’s to come of the PGA Tour’s negotiations with the Saudi Public Investment Fund? No one knows, but a clock is ticking.
What does the future hold for the PGA Tour, minus one of its best players? A weakened talent field, certainly, with the prospects of others following Rahm out the door. Rahm was asked Thursday whether he had considered how his departure might impact the tour, and he responded, “I really haven’t thought about it.”
And what does this mean for LIV Golf, as it prepares for a third season? The Saudi-backed circuit now has more star power but is still built around a product that has struggled to make inroads with many — including Rahm, who is openly pleading with LIV officials to alter their 54-hole, no-cut format.
“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,” he said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Money continues to reshape the sport, and while it is certainly benefiting a handful of players — reports suggest Rahm ultimately will be paid anywhere from $400 million to $600 million from LIV’s Saudi benefactors — many across the game fear that professional golf, and especially its fans, will be only poorer.
“Unfortunately, money has changed things,” Canadian golfer MacKenzie Hughes wrote on social media Friday. “Charity used to be a huge priority on tour, but it’s taken a back seat. LIV has overvalued the worth of golfers so much that it has ruined our perspective, and pushed purses to unsustainable levels. The marketplace seems broken.”
How golf got to this point could provide some hints about what the immediate future holds. The money might prove to be unsustainable — the tour previously said LIV posed an “existential threat” to its operations — and fans will see the world’s best golfers compete against each other only a handful of times a year.
Even though the tour and Saudi officials agreed to strike language from the initial framework agreement that prevented the recruitment of golfers, PGA Tour execs were still taken aback in recent weeks when LIV officials approached some of its players, including Rahm, according to a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the bargaining. With an end-of-the-year deadline looming, the tour felt it had been negotiating in good faith toward a final agreement with the PIF, and while many there view Rahm’s departure as providing additional leverage for the PIF, a person with knowledge of the situation said both sides remain motivated to get a deal done.
Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, was expected to meet this week with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the Saudi PIF, and that meeting now will take place next week, according to the person familiar with the situation.
The tour, meantime, continues to negotiate with other potential investors. And it could still move forward with its plan to create a new corporate entity without Saudi involvement, thus putting the LIV-PGA feud back on full-tilt mode.
The tour continues to plan for other changes, such as signature events, elevated purses and increased opportunities for players, including equity stake in the tour itself, but it’s not clear that the economics support such ambitions. The tour lost a major sponsor this week when Wells Fargo decided to end its title sponsorship of the tournament at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte after the 2024 event. The news was confirmed by Gary Sobba, the tournament director, and first reported by the Charlotte Business Journal. Earlier this year, AT&T also decided to end its sponsorship of the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, though it was replaced by the CJ Group, a South Korea-based company.
The tour has been seeking new revenue streams and new forms of investment.A spokesman for the Fenway Sports Group, considered a leader to invest and partner with the tour, declined to comment Friday on the state of negotiations.
The PIF has remained silent about the tour’s talks with other potential partners, so very few know if the Saudi investors have an appetite to be in business with the tour alongside others, or if they’d prefer to revert to the 2021 game plan: a head-to-head battle with the tour for players, sponsors and fans.
Rahm said the PIF-PGA Tour relationship played no role in his decision, and he gave no indication that he knew how things might shake out.
“I hope whatever happens behind those doors is best for all of us, for golf in general,” he said.
PGA Tour officials must decide how upset they are over LIV poaching Rahm, and whether they absolutely need Saudi money to continue with the ambitious plan to bolster the economic underpinnings of the organization. Either way, the tour can now anticipate losing more players to the LIV side, a move many in the golf world believe the tour tacitly sanctioned when it decided to partner with the PIF six months ago.
LIV, meantime, is set to begin a new season with shuffled rosters and a handful of new faces. It will continue as a team-based competition with global aspirations, playing a tournament structure that many fans have been slow to embrace, particularly in the United States. But it will move forward with one of the PGA Tour’s biggest assets and most charismatic characters, and no one is minimizing the potential impact for both circuits.
“LIV Golf is here to stay. The addition of Jon reemphasizes that our League is not slowing down,” Lawrence Burian, LIV’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are continuing to invest and build aggressively for LIV’s long-term and exciting future.” (LIV’s executives were not made available for interviews.)
Rahm had boasted in the past that he would remain loyal to the PGA Tour and that he and his family wouldn’t make a move based on money. He told reporters Thursday that money was “definitely one of the reasons,” but didn’t offer many other details on his change of heart.
“Obviously, the past two years has been a lot of evolving on the game of golf,” he said. “Things have changed a lot, and so have I. So, you know, seeing the growth of LIV Golf, seeing the evolution of LIV Golf and the innovation is something that’s really captured my attention.”
The new PGA Tour season begins Jan. 4 with the Sentry in Maui, one of eight signature events on the calendar that features a limited field and a $4 million purse for the winner. Rahm won the event last year but won’t be around to defend his title. He instead will make his debut when the new LIV season begins in February.
Rahm remains set to compete in the major championships — after winning the Masters in April, he has a lifetime exemption into that event — but won’t be eligible for the Ryder Cup or the Olympics, at least under the current rules.
“Because of this decision, the European Tour is going to have rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility,” Rory McIlroy told Sky Sports. “Absolutely.”
Rahm said he’s hopeful that he’ll still be allowed to compete in PGA Tour and DP World Tour events, particularly the Spanish Open, but tour officials don’t expect that to happen any time soon. The tour is still discussing conditions that might allow LIV players to compete in tour events, but even that could fall apart if the deal with the Saudis is scuttled.
Eighteen months ago, Rahm said that he wanted “to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years.”
“What’s even better than that is hopefully being a pioneer and being the ones that create the legacy that other people will speak of in the future,” Rahm said Thursday. “And that’s something that, as ambitious as it may be, we have the opportunity to do right now.”