Reaction as Jon Rahm joins LIV Golf to become world’s highest-paid athlete

Masters champion Jon Rahm has joined LIV Golf, pocketing £450 million to become the world’s highest-paid athlete and the Saudi-backed tour’s biggest signing. We break down the Ryder Cup star’s move, the reaction, and what it means for the future of men’s professional golf.

The World No.3’s defection from the PGA Tour – understood to be worth a staggering £450 million – is the clearest indication yet that the PGA Tour might be losing its power to hold onto its biggest stars – and Rahm’s move could open the floodgates for more superstars to jump ship.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player to make the switch to LIV and joins several other major winners, including Brooks Koepka, who won this year’s US PGA Championship, 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith, and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson. It also means LIV is now home to 14 of the last 27 major champions, dating back to 2016.

The move represents a significant U-Turn for Rahm, who had been a vocal critic of LIV and its format, which he previously branded “not appealing”. While full terms of the agreement have not yet been released, Rahm will have control of his own LIV team franchise and serve as captain of the league’s 13th team.

Jon Rahm finalizes his LIV Golf contract with CEO Greg Norman.

Rahm said: “As you can see now it’s official. This is me finally saying after all the rumors, some of them were true, and I am officially joining LIV Golf.

“It’s not an easy decision. I’ve had a very successful career and I’m happy. There are a lot of things that LIV Golf have to offer which were very enticing, starting with team golf.“

“I play golf for the love of the game and for the love of golf. I’m an ambitious person but I’m not a greedy one.

“But as a husband, as a father, and as a family man I have a duty to them to give them the most amount of opportunities and the most amount of resources possible.

“Obviously, [money] is a factor and it’s an important one in this decision. The love of the game and wanting to grow it in a global market. Being part of the team. Being a captain. Hopefully being a leader to my teammates. It makes me want to work harder than I have done now to actually prove myself.

“Hopefully, sometime in the future some kids in Spain will want to be part of this team that I am going to build. Hopefully, it’s something that I am related to for a very long time. Hopefully until the day I die. And I can make it something very special.”

Jon Rahm has become the world's highest-paid athlete by joining LIV Golf for $450m.

Speculation about Rahm’s future was heightened when he pulled out of the inaugural TGL season, fronted by Tiger and Rory, which has since been postponed until 2025. At the time, the Spaniard said it would ‘require a level of commitment I can’t offer’ as his reason for withdrawing, though we now know he was busy negotiating with LIV.

Rahm’s sponsor, Callaway, is understood to be in advanced talks about sponsoring his soon-to-be-announced LIV team, again indicating a shift in the stance of golf’s biggest brands, who have so far shied away from those who are associated with the breakaway tour funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The 29-year-old’s move has already led to speculation that Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton and Min Woo Lee might all be following in the Spaniard’s footsteps, buoyed by his change of tac.  

Rahm’s victories in this year’s Masters and the 2021 US Open guarantee him exemptions to play in all four majors for several years, but this decision does put his Ryder Cup future in doubt – and leaves the DP World Tour with some difficult decisions to make.

Rahm won three points as Europe regained the trophy with a 16½-11½ victory in Rome in September, but current DP World Tour rules would stop him from playing in the next event in 2025 and adding to his three starts in the event.

“It’s sad politics have got in the way of such a beautiful event,” said Rahm earlier this year. “It’s the best Europeans against the best Americans, period, And whatever is going on, who is playing LIV and who is not playing LIV to me shouldn’t matter.”

Jon Rahm Masters champion

What has Rahm said about LIV in the past?

Besides criticizing the format and calling for players to be punished should they return to the PGA Tour, Rahm previously said that money wasn’t his motivating factor for playing the game.

“Money is great, but when [my wife] Kelley and I started talking about it, we’re like, will our lifestyle change if I got $400m? No, it will not change one bit.

“I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So 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. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.

What changed?

The PGA Tour did. As soon as Jay Monahan went behind the player’s back and made a deal with the Saudis, the landscape of professional golf shifted. The PGA Tour lost a whole lot of trust and power the moment they chose money over morals. Players had been criticized and canceled for siding with the Saudis, but the deal on June 6 helped normalize everything Monahan had worked so hard to avoid. 

Rahm said he felt “blindsided” and “betrayed” by the whole arrangement, so you can hardly blame him for wanting to stick two fingers up at the establishment, especially when LIV were offering £450 million to become their poster boy and to break out of the shadow of Rory and Tiger.

Nevertheless, Rahm’s departure does raise a lot more questions about what this means for the framework agreement and the December 31 deadline. It’s common knowledge that the PGA Tour are currently talking with other potential investors, though it’s unclear as yet whether this would be an alternative to PIF’s support or to supplement it to satisfy antitrust regulations.

The LIV Golf merger still hangs in the balance

Monahan still holds a lot of leverage, including the TV deals and sponsors which LIV want, but recent events and rumors of unrest among members mean the PGA Tour are in a far weaker position than they were six months ago. 

If the PGA Tour want Rahm back and playing in their events again, they’ll need to return to the negotiating table with the PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, which may be exactly what the Saudis wanted all along.

Whether Monahan is willing to do business now is perhaps the greater issue here, though he may be left with no choice if he wants to stop LIV from poaching even more of their biggest assets. The future of the PGA Tour hangs on his next move.

Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy

How have the players reacted?

Rahm’s Ryder Cup team-mate Rory McIlroy has been a vocal critic of LIV in the past, and is fearful for the future of professional golf as LIV continue to chase the game’s biggest names with enormous cheques.

“My fear is that we continue down this path where we have competing tours and it divides the eyeballs that are on the game,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “Some people like LIV, the majority of people like the PGA Tour, but if LIV start to take a few players each and every year it’s really going to be divided and that’s no good for anyone.

“You’re basically cannibalizing yourself as a sport, sort of the same as what boxing has done with all the different organizations and a few other sports have as well. To me, having all the best golfers under the one umbrella is the best way forward because I think that’s really what the public wants.

“The majors are already so big, but my fear is that if we keep going down this path then all the best players are only going to get together four times a year. That means golf is only going to be relevant four times a year and that’s good for no one in the game.

“We need to get everyone back together and try to forget about what has happened in the past. Let bygones be bygones and we all move forward together – I think that’s what’s going to be the best thing for the professional game.

Jon Rahm, pictured lifting the Ryder Cup in Rome, says he'd pay to play in the event.

“Jon is going to be in Bethpage in 2025 so, because of this decision, the European Tour are going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility. There’s absolutely no question about that – I certainly want Jon Rahm on the next Ryder Cup team.

“I’m going to miss competing against him week in, week out. He has got so much talent, he’s so tenacious and he’s a great team-mate in the Ryder Cup. The thing that I’ve realized is that you can’t judge someone for making a decision that they feel is the best thing for them.

“Is it disappointing to me? Yes, but the landscape of golf changed on June 6, when the framework agreement was announced, and I think because of that it made the jump from the PGA Tour to LIV a little bit easier for guys.”

Justin Rose also weighed in and branded Rahm’s defection as a “huge coup for LIV Golf” and “a blow for the PGA Tour”.

He added: “It is tough for the PGA Tour to lose Rahmbo. It comes at a very interesting time with negotiations going on and the December deadline, talks that I think are quite confusing for people on the outside.

“The recruiting is starting pretty hard again and it’s a big statement, big news. There are other rumors out there and I have spoken to the other named rumors and they are playing it pretty straight. I don’t know where the truth lies.”

About the author

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling – Features Editor

Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.

Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.

He has been playing golf since he was 11 and plays off a handicap of 10.

Get in touch with Michael via email and follow him on Twitter.

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