Jon Rahm has reportedly touched down in New York City. He is going to meet with LIV Golf officials to finalize a deal to join the Saudi-backed golf circuit. This is truly astounding news that will assuredly shake up the landscape of professional golf.
Rahm is the reigning Masters champion and two-time major winner. He is in the prime of his career. Most importantly, he was incredibly outspoken pledging his allegiance to the PGA Tour in 2022, trashing LIV’s format and talking about building a legacy on Tour.
Reports indicate the deal is worth somewhere in the $500 million range. Ironically, $400 million was the specific number Rahm referenced when shooting down the notion he would ever join LIV last year.
So, what does this move mean for the future of men’s professional golf? What about the framework deal between the PGA Tour and LIV?
Nothing is certain in the golf world right now. But if you follow the sport intently and read the tea leaves, there is a lot you can learn from this shocking development.
LIV Existence into 2024 and Beyond
Media outlets ran with the news in June that the deal between the PGA, DP World Tour and the PIF signified the unification of golf globally. But the true intent was lost in semantics.
The actual goal of the agreement was to immediately end litigation and bring the tours under one umbrella in a newly formed, for-profit company. But that did not mean the tours would join together or the players play together.
LIV was never going anywhere. CEO Greg Norman stated as much, as did the PIF Gov. Yasir Al-Rummayan, referring to the rival tour as ‘his baby.’
Rahm leaving the PGA Tour and his integrity behind is a clear sign that LIV Golf will be around for a long time. Yes, the PIF is reportedly worth over $700 billion. So throwing a half billion to Rahm does not hurt their bottom line much. But you don’t accrue wealth like that by throwing away $500 million or so.
PGA Tour deal with LIV falling through?
The PGA Tour had found itself in dire straights financially. The emergence of LIV Golf in 2022 prompted a reaction, offering larger purses through ‘Elevated Events’ in 2023 that was not sustainable. It put Commissioner Jay Monahan in a tight spot. He made what he believed to be the best deal for the future of the Tour.
Policy Board Chairman Ed Herlily and Jimmy Dunne, the vice chairman of Piper Sandler, brokered the deal between the PIF and PGA Tour.
Amidst all of the pushback from players, fans and Congress, the Tour began looking elsewhere.
Fenway Sports Group, owners of the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins and Liverpool FC, and Endeavor, the majority owners of the WWE and UFC, were reportedly in discussions with the Tour.
Ultimately, the Tour passed. It’s not known whether the PIF utilized their ‘first right of refusal’ awarded them through the framework in June.
But through the lens of LIV’s existence into the future, the steps the PGA Tour has taken in recent months, and the apparent Rahm bomb dropped Thursday, all signs point to talks breaking down.
The Future of the PGA Tour a Question Mark
The golf world has been wondering what the heck the PGA Tour will look like after a deal with the PIF. Maybe the more pertinent question now is what will it look like without one?
Some members of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board including Patrick Cantlay, prefer a deal with the private-equity group Acorn Growth Companies, according to Rapaport.
Of course, their pockets are not nearly as deep as the PIF. Like, not in the same ballpark.
Therefore, there are concerns that a deal with Acorn would lead to cost-cutting in numerous areas, including Tour membership and player development programs.
One unnamed player detailed that concern saying “players are working frantically… to save the PGA Tour.”
With Rahm leaving the Tour, an argument can be made that three of the five best players on the planet play on the LIV Tour: Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Cam Smith. They also have other major champions including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau to name a couple.
Of course, the PGA Tour is still considerably deeper in talent, both at the top and throughout their fields.
Scheffler, Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa can easily be showcased. But if someone who was as ardent about the PGA Tour as Rahm was last year, only to then switch sides, what’s to stop more poaching of top talent.
Phil Mickelson warned this was going to happen. Everyone laughed it off as Phil just being Phil. I’m guessing he’s the one laughing now.
Kendall Capps is the Senior Editor of SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more coverage, follow us @_PlayingThrough on all major social platforms.