Golf – The 2023 Ryder Cup – Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, Rome, Italy – October 1, 2023 Team Europe’s Jon Rahm acknowledges the crowd as he walks past the Ryder Cup trophy on the 1st hole during the Singles REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo
By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Masters champion Jon Rahm jumped from the PGA Tour to Saudi-backed LIV Golf on Thursday in a big-money move that has sent another shockwave through the sport.
The 29-year-old becomes the biggest name to sign on with the rebel circuit funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) since Australian Cameron Smith joined after winning the 2022 British Open.
“I am proud to join LIV Golf and be part of something new that is bringing growth to the sport,” said Rahm in a statement from LIV Golf. “I have no doubt that this is a great opportunity for me and my family and am very excited for the future.”
Rahm said later in an interview on Fox News that it had been a tough decision to make the move.
“But there is a lot of things that LIV Golf has to offer that were very, very enticing,” said the former world number one. He said money was one of the factors in his decision.
One of golf’s most popular and charismatic figures, Rahm’s departure will be seen as another massive blow to the PGA Tour which has watched many of its stars defect to the breakaway league lured by massive paydays.
Media reports said the world number three will be paid at least $300 million with some outlets putting the guarantee at closer to $600 million.
Rory McIlroy has been the PGA Tour’s biggest supporter and one of the loudest critics of golfers signing on with LIV but the four-time major winner was more diplomatic when it came to news of Rahm’s departure.
“It’s hard to sit here and criticise Jon because of what a great player he is and the experiences I have had with him,” said McIlroy on X, formerly Twitter. “I have nothing but good things to say about Jon.
“I respect the hell out of him as a golfer and he seems like he wants to live his life the right way.
“The thing I realise is you can’t judge someone for making a decision they feel is the best thing for them.
“Is it disappointing to me? Yes.”
Rumours of Rahm’s switch to LIV Golf gathered steam when he pulled out of next month’s American Express tournament, a PGA Tour event he has won twice before and where he is the defending champion.
He will make his LIV debut at the league’s season opening event from Feb. 2-4 at LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico.
LIV Golf commissioner and CEO Greg Norman said he always knew Rahm was going to be one of the world’s best.
“When I first met Jon at the age of 17, I knew then that the golfing world was about to witness the birth of a new star,” he said.
“He’s a generational talent who has proven his merit as a multiple major champion and tremendous ambassador for global golf by placing the game ahead of himself.
“There are very few athletes with his pedigree of talent, leadership, poise, and commitment to bringing progress to the sport on a worldwide stage.”
Rahm joins a growing stable of major winners at LIV that already includes Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
The Spaniard had declared his “fealty to the PGA Tour” last year but has since had a change of heart after the two rival tours announced a landmark agreement in June to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf.
The announcement, which brought an end to legal battles between the parties but triggered antitrust concerns from U.S. regulators, also called for a definitive agreement to be reached by Dec. 31, although the sides can agree to extend the deadline.
But with no agreement on the horizon, Rahm’s capture is a coup for LIV and boosts the tour’s credibility.
‘HERE TO STAY’
Rahm has been one of golf’s most dominant players with 20 career wins, including his two major titles.
He has won the DP World Tour Championship three times and played in three Ryder Cups, helping Team Europe to victory in 2018 and 2023.
His trophy case also includes 2021 PGA of America Player of the Year honours as well twice being voted European Tour (DP World Tour) Golfer of the Year.
“LIV Golf is here to stay,” proclaimed Lawrence Burian, LIV Golf Chief Operating Officer. “The addition of Jon reemphasizes that our league is not slowing down.
“We are continuing to invest and build aggressively for LIV’s long-term and exciting future.”
The first wave of golfers to join LIV came under intense criticism and were branded well paid mercenaries in a “sportwashing” scheme by a nation trying to improve its reputation over its human rights record.
McIlroy said he believed that the introduction of a framework between the PGA Tour and LIV had reduced some of that tension.
“The landscape of golf changed on June 6 or whenever the framework agreement was announced and I think because of that it made the jump from PGA Tour to LIV a little bit easier for guys,” said McIlroy on X.
“They let the first guys really take the heat.
“This framework agreement basically legitimised what LIV was trying to do and I think it has made it easier if that’s really what you want to do.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge, Stephen Coates, Peter Rutherford)News Related