Two-time major champion Jon Rahm, one of the biggest stars on the PGA Tour and arguably the best golfer in the world, is set to become the league’s latest — and most significant — defection to LIV Golf, according to multiple reports. The former world No. 1 will join the likes of Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson as the most significant names starring on the 54-hole team circuit created by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to rival the PGA Tour.
Rahm, 29, has been tangentially linked to LIV Golf since its inception, but conversations between the parties appeared to get renewed around Thanksgiving. A Rahm-LIV Golf announcement is imminent Thursday, according to Golf Channel, with the deal expected to exceed three years and $300 million, according to ESPN.
Neither Rahm nor LIV Golf has made the signing official as Golf Channel and the Wall Street Journal have alluded to the deal being in its final stages of completion. An agreement between the sides would have a significant impact on the sport as a whole.
Rahm making the switch from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf comes amid ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s PIF to house commercial operations for worldwide golf under a new for-profit entity dubbed PGA Tour Enterprises. A deal deadline had been set for Dec. 31 with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirming a meeting with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan on his calendar to “advance conversations” ahead of the “firm target” date.
The original deal framework between the PGA Tour and the PIF featured a non-solicitation agreement, which was in place to prevent LIV Golf from poaching PGA Tour players, including Rahm, during negotiations. However, that clause was removed amid antitrust concerns from the United States Department of Justice, which consequently created this opening.
Rahm enjoyed a stellar 2023 season on the PGA Tour, winning four times across the first four months of the calendar year. He claimed the Tournament of Champions, the American Express and the Genesis Invitational before donning the green jacket at the 2023 Masters for his second career major title. With his victory at Augusta National, Rahm receives a five-year exemption into major championships and a lifetime invitation into the Masters.
What does this means for the PGA Tour?
It’s certainly not a positive development. The PGA Tour has done a fine job over the last year retaining its top talent through the Player Impact Program, increased purses in signature events and other means, but it may all be for naught. The June 6 announcement of the framework agreement has clearly changed the game with players of all levels feeling slighted by the manner in which Monahan went about his business.
“I’ve been pretty direct and honest in owning the fact that the rollout was a failure on my part,” Monahan said at the DealBook Summit. “I’ve owned it and I’ve continued to own it.”
Monahan’s deciding to accept the money, which he had previously criticized from a moral high ground, essentially gives a shield for PGA Tour players to do the same. Whether others follow in Rahm’s footsteps remains to be seen, but it is clear the temptation from across the aisle still exists.
What does this means LIV Golf?
It’s a huge boon to a league that, despite its star power, has struggled to breakthrough to the mainstream fan. Even LIV Golf would admit its second recruitment class of Thomas Pieters, Sebastian Munoz, Brendan Steele and Mito Pereira fell short of expectations. Unable to harpoon a whale during last year’s offseason, LIV Golf has more than made up for it with the addition of Rahm.
Their playbook has been apparent for some time: sign recent major champions. With Rahm, LIV Golf’s roster accounts for 24 of the last 55 major championships and 15 of the last 31 dating back to 2016. While LIV may not currently be awarded Official World Golf Rankings points for its events, the league’s presence on the major stage four times a year is notable.
What this does for LIV Golf’s actual events is a bit trickier. It is clear there is a disconnect between golf fans and their product, and not even a star like Rahm can fix that overnight. There will be buzz with his arrival, but they may need to tinker the format before the excitement fizzles.
What does this mean for the PGA Tour, PIF deal?
The question, “I thought the PGA Tour and LIV Golf merged, why is this happening?” may be the most popular query those who cover the game have been asked in recent weeks. The PGA Tour and PIF have only agreed … to make an agreement. Outside of that, nothing has been finalized as they approach the firm target date of Dec. 31 to come to an actual deal.
Rahm may be seen as a bargaining chip in the eyes of PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who can now meet with Monahan holding additional leverage while attempting to force concessions from the PGA Tour. If those concessions are not met, the poaching of star players could continue and further separate the two sides from finalizing an agreement. One hangup between the parties is believed to be the PIF’s insistence that team golf remain a significant part of the new organization.
“I’m not sure specifically how it would impact those negotiations, but all in all, Jon Rahm is one of the biggest assets that we have on the PGA Tour,” said Jordan Spieth, who recently replaced Rory McIlroy on the PGA Tour Policy Board. “So, it would really be not very good for us in general because we want to play against the best players in the world, and that’s what Jon is.”