Earthquake. Bombshell. The headline that almost no one would have imagined: Jon Rahm signs for LIV, the Saudi Golf League. The 29-year-old Basque player, number three in the world and winner of two majors, has reached an agreement (still unofficial) to join the revolutionary project that for two years has split golf in two, immersed in a struggle between the new actor and the traditional circuits, American and European, a conflict that has not yet seen the light of day despite the peace agreement reached in June. In the midst of negotiations between the two sides to go hand in hand in the exploitation of the business, the signing of Rahm is a strategic move that reinforces the power of LIV and at the same time may lead more than ever to a pact. The American circuit, PGA Tour, sees a world star leave despite the fact that the Spaniard distanced himself many times from the new model.
The signing won't stop Rahm, who was world number one for 52 weeks, from playing the majors: he can play the Masters for life, the US Open until 2031, and the British Open and PGA for four more years. And it remains to be seen what will happen to the rest of the calendar, depending on the agreement signed by the two parties (the deadline is December 31). In any case, Rahm will become the highest-paid Spanish athlete thanks to a cheque that will be around 500 million euros for his arrival, LIV's biggest hit. And he catches one of the biggest contracts in the history of the sport.
LIV Golf, the revolution
Rahm's speech has softened from a very harsh tone at the beginning of the conflict to the conciliatory air of recent months. "I declare my absolute loyalty to the PGA Tour. I'm a big believer in the work of [the commissioner] Jay Monahan. I don't think the Saudi League is a good thing for me. They throw numbers at you to cajole you. I'm here to make a name for myself. I grew up watching a lot of great golfers play great tournaments and I'm just looking to be a part of that legacy. That has much more value than money," he said in February 2022. Four months later, before defending the US Open crown, he launched a forceful plea that was highly praised by the leaders of the American circuit for its depth and for pronouncing it at a time of star flight. "I never played golf for money, I compete for the love of the sport. Three rounds without a cut is not golf and I want to play against the best in the world in a format that has been used for hundreds of years. The prizes are great, but would my lifestyle change if I had 400 million? No, not in the slightest. I could retire right now and have a very happy life. I'm not surprised that many are leaving. Hundreds of millions are a big reason. I'm drawn to history. Seve, Nicklaus... That's more than just money, it's being a champion with history behind it. That's why my heart goes out to the PGA Tour. For many people, three or four years in the Saudi League is worth retirement. Well, they're a damn reason. Most of the population would leave."
🗣️ "My heart is with the PGA Tour"
Jon Rahm says that he can understand the allure of joining the LIV Golf Series, however, he says the competition format doesn't appeal to him. pic.twitter.com/Euq1JMBXzc
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) June 14, 2022
Greg Norman, CEO of the Saudi League, tried to catch him. "Instead of convincing me with the history of golf, with what I love, he started sending me numbers, numbers and numbers. My response was to talk to my manager. And I told him that didn't appeal to me," Rahm said months later. The hook of Phil Mickelson, one of the stars of LIV and Rahm's great godfather in his beginnings in the United States, did not work either.
The last version was that of a golfer willing to build bridges, sensitive above all to the case of Sergio García, excluded from the Ryder Cup due to his departure to LIV and his departure from the European Tour. "I would like to see a model in which circuits can coexist, where they can sit down and talk. I don't think it's right for the PGA and the European Tour to turn their backs on players who have left. They just go to a new opportunity. What is clear to me is that LIV Golf is here to stay, they are not going away. Hopefully we'll have some peace," he said at last year's British Championship. And he lamented the punishment of Garcia: "It's stupid not to count on him. It me off that I'm not in the Ryder Cup. The fact that I can't play because of nonsense me off more. Sergio has dedicated his life to the European circuit and they turn their backs on it. I'm sorry that politics got in the way."
Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm at the 2021 Ryder Cup.Patrick Smith (Getty Images)
The steering wheel ended when in June 2023 the creation of a single entity to manage world golf and the supposed end of the war was announced. The players were not informed of the negotiations when some, as in Rahm's case, had championed the PGA's cause against LIV. That secret pact irritated the Basque player: "A lot of people feel betrayed, that's not the consensus. I understand the secrecy but it's not easy, as a player who has been involved, to wake up one day and see this bombshell. It's an uncertainty that we don't like."
Rahm has crowned the best year of his career in terms of results in 2023: four singles victories, including the Masters at Augusta, in addition to the Ryder Cup in which he was the great European leader. He debuted on January 8 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions ($2.7 million jackpot), on January 22 he repeated bingo at the American Express ($1.4 million) and on February 19 at the Genesis Invitational ($3.6 million). And on April 9, the green jacket of the Masters (3.2 million), his second major after the 2021 US Open. He was 22th at the U.S. Open and second at the British Open at the Grand Slam this season. In 12 rounds, the Basque collected four wins, 10 places in the top 17 and only one missed cut, in the Travelers, as well as a retirement due to illness in The Players. His current account grew with 21 million on the American circuit (the world number one, Scheffler, climbed to 2016), his juiciest course, a rise in prize money on the PGA Tour derived from competition with the Saudi League and the consideration of tournaments as elevated. Since turning pro in 51, Rahm has earned $15 million from his results at the elite level. This year he also benefited from a bonus of another nine million for his value as the face of the circuit, for Rory McIlroy's 12 and Tiger Woods' <>.
Forever a Masters champion. #themasters pic.twitter.com/rKAzcFmADQ
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 9, 2023
In the middle of the finished season and before the next, Rahm has given up defending the American Express title (January 18-21) and participating in the Tiger League, a spectacle that mixes real and virtual golf and scheduled for 15 Mondays of the year, finally postponed until 2025. "Right now it requires a level of commitment that I can't offer," he argued. He also dropped the option of replacing McIlroy as a member of the PGA Tour's governing board, because of the number of meetings and calls he would have to take on: "I'm not here for that." The great earthquake was already brewing.
The fourth Spaniard after Sergio García, Chacarra and David Puig
The Saudi League has announced for its third season a schedule that includes 12 stops between February 2 and August 18, 2024: Mayakoba, Las Vegas, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, a date in the United States with a venue to be confirmed, Adelaide, Singapore, Houston, Nashville, Valderrama (July 12-14), Rocester and Greenbrier, to which we must add an individual final and a team final not yet assigned in the calendar.
Three Spanish golfers, Sergio García, Eugenio López-Chacarra and David Puig, share a team with the Mexican Abraham Ancer, the Fireballs, and enlist in LIV alongside heavyweights such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith (signed when he was world number two and winner of the 150th British Open at Saint Andrews) and Koepka (the only one to have won a major, the 2023 PGA, since his departure to the Saudi project). Rahm is the jewel in the crown.
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