Only Jon Rahm can say whether he sold his soul. His principles and his reputation, however, are now owned by the Saudis.
The two-time major champion and once-ardent defender of the PGA Tour became the biggest name to defect to LIV Golf on Thursday, deciding the tradition and challenge of the Tour weren’t so important to him, after all. Who needs to play on courses where Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods made their mark when you can stage glorified exhibitions with the Cleeks and the HyFlyers!
So long as the price is right, that is.
All his talk about “fealty” to the PGA Tour, of wanting to play against the best in the world in tournaments steeped in history, and Rahm turned out to be no better than his buddies Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Once the figure the Saudis were dangling got high enough, Rahm was quick to abandon all he’d once stood for.
As for the blood on the hands of his new employers that is now staining his own, well, all those zeroes make it easier to overlook. If nothing else, he can use one of his stacks of cash to wipe it off.
In photos: Jon Rahm through the years
The damage to Rahm’s reputation, and the Tour he supposedly loved so much, can never be undone.
Jon Rahm has officially joined LIV Golf.
Much like Rory McIlroy, Rahm had staked out a position as the conscience of golf, someone who saw LIV for the shameless money grab it is and wanted no part of it. He said as much. Many, many, many times.
“I already make an amazing living doing what I do. I’m extremely thankful, and that all happened because of the platform the PGA Tour provided me,” Rahm said in July. “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve done enough for me, and their focus should be on improving the PGA Tour and the game of golf for the future generations.”
Jon Rahm of Spain raises their cap as they acknowledge the crowd after putting on the 18th green on Day Three of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 22, 2023 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Instead, he’s made it more difficult for the Tour to exist in its current form. This will be a setback for whatever détente PGA Tour overlords thought they’d brokered through their agreement with LIV earlier this year, and there’s no telling how it will get resolved. Odds are pretty good the folks with an endless supply of money will eventually get their way, however, and the giddiness of LIV chief operating officer Lawrence Burian on Thursday night did nothing to contradict that.
“LIV Golf is here to stay,” he said. “The addition of Jon reemphasizes that our league is not slowing down.”
Which would make the game a shell of what it once was.
Once upon a time, Rahm didn’t consider LIV to be “real” golf. Shotgun starts and three-day tournaments? You might as well be putting it through a clown’s mouth. And while he won at The Memorial and Torrey Pines and Augusta National, the best LIV could do for tradition was Doral.
Rahm wasn’t the only one who saw LIV for the charade it was. Even with fan favorites Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka on board, no major broadcaster had interest in LIV. It finally found a home on the CW, where its ratings were so abysmal some stations preempted tournaments for infomercials or reruns.
That wasn’t what Rahm wanted for his career. It wasn’t what he wanted for young players. And it certainly wasn’t what he wanted for the PGA Tour.
Until the money changed his mind.
“Obviously the past two years there’s been a lot of evolving on the game of golf, things have changed a lot and so have I,” Rahm said Thursday. “Seeing the growth of LIV Golf, seeing the evolution of LIV Golf and innovation is something that has really captured my attention.”
Growth? Innovation? Does Rahm know about some LIV the rest of us don’t? The only thing that changed was the amount of money the Saudis offered Rahm to be an accomplice in their sports washing.
“For all those things that I like about this movement, there’s always going to be some things that are not perfect,” Rahm said, “but that’s the situation in everybody’s life.”
Tell that to Jamal Khashoggi’s family. Or the families of those killed in 9/11.
LIV isn’t just a golf league. It’s a central part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s scheme to use sports to cleanse his image. He figures if he splashes enough money out for sports, the world will forget about his and his country’s human rights abuses. Like the marginalization of women and suppression of the LGBTQ community.
And his ordering the murder of Khashoggi, whose body was then dismembered by a bone saw.
That’s who Rahm now works for. That’s whose image Rahm is helping make over.
Once one of the game’s good guys, Rahm is now a hypocrite and a sellout. But hey, he’s getting paid. That’s all that matters to him now.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.