Answering the biggest questions on Jon Rahm’s LIV Golf move

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The LIV Golf League struck another devastating blow to the PGA Tour on Thursday, as the Saudi Arabian-financed circuit signed Masters champion Jon Rahm to a multi-year contract worth more than $300 million, according to sources.

Rahm, a former No. 1 golfer in the world and two-time major champion, is the latest PGA Tour star to accept hundreds of millions of dollars to defect to the rival tour. Given Rahm’s success and popularity around the world, the Spaniard might be LIV Golf’s most important signing.

Rahm’s decision comes at a time when the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment are trying to bring a fractured sport back together by adjoining its commercial properties, including LIV Golf. How does Rahm’s decision affect those negotiations? What will his future be in the major championships and Ryder Cup?

Here is a look at some of the most important issues surrounding Rahm’s decision:


Why now?

The LIV Golf League has been recruiting Rahm for nearly two years, but he had been reluctant to make the jump from the PGA Tour because of the new circuit’s unique format that includes team and individual competitions being played simultaneously, 54-hole tournaments and shotgun starts. Sources indicated to ESPN that format changes might be coming to future LIV Golf events to appease Rahm.

Rahm told a Spanish-language podcast in July that he met with LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman in Mexico in early 2022 before the new circuit launched. “Instead of convincing me with the history of golf, with what I love, he started sending me numbers, numbers and numbers,” Rahm said. “And my answer was ‘Talk to my manager,’ and we’ll talk in the future. It was the only time I spoke to him on the subject. In turn, I told my manager that this doesn’t appeal to me.”

LIV Golf didn’t end its courtship of Rahm, who finally came around to making the jump. In November, Rahm announced that he was pulling out of his commitment to TGL, the tech-infused golf league being fronted by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. Then last week, Rahm wasn’t included in the field released by The American Express in La Quinta, California, a tournament he won last year.


Does this impact the negotiations around the PGA Tour-Saudi PIF merger?

The timing of Rahm’s addition to the Saudi-financed circuit probably isn’t a coincidence, as the PGA Tour and officials from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund are entering the final weeks of negotiations to finalize their framework agreement to merge their commercial interests into a new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises. The deadline for the framework agreement is Dec. 31.

Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan described the Dec. 31 framework agreement deadline as “firm,” although sources told ESPN that it could be extended if there’s progress being made before the new year.

Landing a player of Rahm’s caliber and popularity certainly gives the Saudis more leverage at the negotiating table. The PGA Tour had been listening to financial offers from U.S.-based investment groups, including Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Penguins. The PGA Tour said the interest was unsolicited, but the Saudis might have believed that the tour wasn’t negotiating in good faith.

Signing the reigning Masters champion and one of the tour’s most accomplished players was a clear shot across the PGA Tour’s bow. As one source told ESPN this week, if a deal doesn’t get done between the Saudis and the PGA Tour, PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is prepared to “open up his checkbook” and “triple down.” Signing Rahm may have only been a sign of things to come.


What had Rahm previously said about joining LIV Golf?

Over the past 18 months, Rahm hadn’t criticized the LIV Golf League and had largely taken the high road. While PGA Tour loyalists like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have heavily criticized the source of LIV Golf’s funding and other aspects of the rival tour, Rahm has remained quiet.

That doesn’t mean Rahm’s decision isn’t surprising. In the past, Rahm said he wasn’t playing golf for money, wanted to compete against the best golfers in the world and cared deeply about winning the tournaments that mattered most — the majors and PGA Tour events like the Players Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial.

“Everybody’s free to make their own choice, it’s as simple as that,” Rahm said in February 2022. “All I can say is from somebody young like myself who has his entire future ahead of him, it doesn’t seem like a smart thing. Again, the only appeal I see is monetary, right? So like I said just earlier on, I think there’s a lot more to be able to play for besides just money on the PGA Tour. There’s history, there’s legacy. At the end of the day, I’m in this to win tournaments, I’m in this to play against the best in the world.”

Four months later, before the 2022 U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts, Rahm said LIV Golf’s format didn’t appeal to him.

“I consider the PGA Tour has done an amazing job giving us the best platform for us to perform,” Rahm said. “I do see the appeal that other people see towards the LIV Golf. … To be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me. Shotgun, three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.”


Does this affect his playing status for the majors?

Because Rahm picked up his second major at the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April, he’s assured of being eligible to compete in each of the four majors through at least the 2027 season. Winning a green jacket gives him a lifetime exemption into the Masters.

Rahm was already eligible to compete in the U.S. Open through 2031 after he won his first major at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California, in 2021. His Masters victory earned him five-year exemptions into the PGA Championship and The Open as well.

The four governing bodies that stage the majors haven’t banned LIV Golf players from competing in their tournaments, although each of them left open the possibility of tweaking their exemptions and qualification categories.


Will this affect his ability to play for Europe in the 2025 Ryder Cup?

Rahm competed for the European team in each of the past three Ryder Cups and seemed destined to one day become a team captain. Like his heroes Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, Rahm seemed to care deeply about the international competition.

Rahm was also one of the European team’s top performers in each of the past two Ryder Cups. He won 3 ½ points in the U.S. team’s 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in 2021. Rahm was nearly unbeatable before falling to Scottie Scheffler 4&3 in Sunday singles.

Two months ago, Rahm picked up three points in the European team’s 16 ½-11 ½ win at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome.

LIV Golf League captain Brooks Koepka was a captain’s choice on the U.S. team after finishing seventh in points (the top six were automatic qualifiers). The PGA of America — and not the PGA Tour — oversees the Ryder Cup. Because Koepka was still a member of the PGA of America for a grace period that expires in June, he was eligible to make the team.

Ryder Cup veterans like Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and others were ineligible for the European team because they had resigned their DP World Tour memberships. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson was stripped of his captaincy after making the jump to LIV Golf.

At the BMW PGA Championship in England in September, Rahm disagreed with Garcia and others being ineligible for the team.

“I think it would be really stupid of anybody not to lean on Sergio García’s experience in the Ryder Cup,” Rahm said. “I mean, he is the best player Europe has ever had, won the most points and has shown it time and time again. If he were able to be a vice captain, I absolutely would lean on him.”


But didn’t the PGA Tour and LIV Golf agree not to poach players anymore?

The framework agreement, which was announced June 6, included a provision that prohibited the LIV Golf League from recruiting players from the PGA Tour and vice versa. The clause stated that neither side would “enter into any contract, agreement or understanding with” any “players who are members of the other’s tour or organization.”

About a month after the framework agreement was reached, however, the sides agreed to remove the provision after regulators from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division raised concerns about the non-competition aspects of it.

In a statement at the time, the PGA Tour said, “The Framework Agreement sets the stage for an exciting future for professional golf that re-establishes competition at the highest levels of the sport and creates the biggest stage for everyone — players, sponsors, and fans. Based on discussions with staff at the Department of Justice, we chose to remove specific language from the Framework Agreement. While we believe the language is lawful, we also consider it unnecessary in the spirit of cooperation and because all parties are negotiating in good faith.”


What does this mean for the PGA Tour and Commissioner Jay Monahan?

Losing Rahm is another reminder of the Saudis’ seemingly endless wealth and their steadfast commitment to making the LIV Golf League work, despite its struggles to gain traction in its first two seasons.

Losing aging players like Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson, Poulter and Westwood is one thing, but watching past major champions like Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and now Rahm take the plunge to the rival league is an entirely different matter. They are some of the most accomplished and popular golfers in the world and still have plenty of rounds left.

There’s going to be tremendous pressure on Monahan — not that there already wasn’t — to get a deal done with the Saudis in the coming weeks or months. Rahm could only be the first domino to fall in what might be another wave of PGA Tour players defecting to LIV Golf. Monahan’s future as commissioner might very well depend on his ability to strike a deal with the Saudis.

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