Jon Rahm has admitted that signing with LIV Golf in a record deal worth upwards of £450 million ($566.4m) is a “big risk” to his Ryder Cup future.
“The Ryder Cup was the biggest hurdle for me before joining,” the world No 3 said on Thursday night.
The announcement of Rahm’s signing sent a seismic shock throughout the professional game. Telegraph Sport revealed earlier this week that the reigning Masters champion was on the verge of joining the Saudi-funded league and he was unveiled in New York with a deal that is believed to be the biggest ever in sport.
The first £240 million ($302m) will be paid up front with the rest following as bonuses and as part of a team franchise that he will own. But the magnitude of the settlement could be even bigger for golf. “I had a really good offer in front of me and I’ve done it for my family,” Rahm said.
He added: “The money is great. It’s wonderful, but what I’ve said before is true. I do not play golf for the money. I play golf for the love of the game and for the love of golf, but as a husband and as a father and family man, I have a duty to my family to give them the best opportunities and the most amount of resources possible.
“But my goal with this is to grow the game of golf, to make it better whatever that may be. I’m an ambitious person but I’m not a greedy one. I know I can’t have everything, so there’s some things I’ll have to sacrifice and right now, that seems one I can live with.”
The Spaniard’s Ryder Cup eligibility will now come under intense focus and, apart from Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, the most worried person in golf must be Luke Donald. The Europe captain will be acutely aware that he cannot do without the swashbuckling Spaniard if he is to achieve the mission of retaining the Cup in New York in 2025. Rahm did not inform him beforehand.
“It’s been a very close circle [conducting the deal],” Rahm told Telegraph Sport. “I wish I would have been able to call Luke and give him a heads-up but unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position where I could do that.”
Saudi chief to meet PGA boss next week
The future of Rahm and the Ryder Cup is just one explosive issue that will be triggered by a capture that is not only the most expensive – even after the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau defected in nine-figure deals – but also perhaps the most notable. Its timing is also crucial.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, as well as the chairman of Newcastle United, is scheduled to meet Monahan next week in a face-to-face sit-down that is seen as crucial in the ongoing merger negotiations, which have a Dec 31 deadline.
Peace supposedly broke out in June when the PGA Tour – as well as the DP World Tour – made the bombshell announcement that it had reached “a framework agreement” with PIF.
Since then the US Congress has expressed its concerns over an amalgamation with such a controversial foreign power, and US investors have lined up to be a part of any new order. The players have taken control of the PGA Tour’s policy board – that will have a veto on any deal – with Tiger Woods being co-opted onto the committee.
Rory McIlroy resigned from the panel last month amid whispers of the Saudis being cut out completely. This signing of Rahm will surely give Al-Rumayyan leverage in his conflab with Monahan and act as a warning against the Americans going solo.
Rahm’s U-turn on ‘fealty to PGA Tour’
For Rahm, this is a huge U-turn after his previous statements. When LIV was still in its infancy in Feb 2022, he said: “This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour.”
Then, when LIV was up and running a few months later, he said: “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 have always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.”
Only three months ago, he said: “I laugh when people rumour me with LIV Golf. I never liked the format. My heart is with the PGA Tour.”
But he revised these opinions on Thursday night. “I mean, I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you – so it’s [money] definitely one of the reasons,” he said. “But the team aspect of things is absolutely key… As far as the negotiations go, I hope whatever happens behind those doors, it’s best for all of us for golf in general. I’m a fan of the sport. So whatever is going to help get golf to the next level and make it more global. I hope that’s what happens.”
The PGA-LIV truce is at an end, like a scene from the Godfather
Way back in June, as peace descended on those blessed fairways and those poor multi-millionaire professional male golfers were assured that there would be no more infighting, no more division or jealousy or recrimination, and, most importantly no more piracy, it all seemed so pleasant.
The poaching was over. The gamekeepers were back in charge.
So where are we? Just over six months later, the time it takes for belligerent pitch marks to repair, Jon Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, has joined LIV Golf for £450 million ($566.4m). A scenario that he, himself, had cast as unthinkable for so long.
The 29-year-old has essentially abandoned the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour and put his beloved Ryder Cup eligibility in danger for a fee that would take the entire collective earnings for the PGA Tour’s season to the 18th green. In one big fat cheque.
Even in the jaw-dropping reaction to that figure, many will still read Rahm’s previous statements, expressing loyalty to the traditional circuits and his love for the Ryder Cup, and ask ‘how could he?’ Fair questions
My favourite happens to be just from August. “I laugh when people rumour me with LIV Golf,” he said. “I never liked the format. My heart is with the PGA Tour.”
Yet while others grapple with that head-scratcher, focus might turn to the clause in that “framework agreement” in which it stated that neither side would “enter into any contract, agreement or understanding with” any “players who are members of the other’s tour or organisation”.
That seemed plain enough. No more stealing the superstars. Yet a few weeks later one of those impenetrable press releases from the PGA Tour informed that the US Department of Justice had “concerns over the antitrust implications of that provision” and the two sides were obliged to remove.
It seemed important at the time, considering that LIV had already splashed out at least $1 billion in collecting big names and that was actually what had caused this dismantling of the entire landscape. But, no, we were assured that this was simply to assuage the politicians and there was no chance of LIV going back into Manchester City mode.
And here we are. Apart from Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and perhaps Jordan Spieth, there is no more notable capture than Rahm. So what happened? It is the $3 billion (£2.38bn) question and the answer depends to whom you are talking. It is like something from the Godfather trilogy.
Momentum was building behind the PGA tour, so LIV pounced
The LIV/PIF lot will look at what has happened since June and noted the clamour from US investors for a piece of the PGA Tour.
Premier League fans might recognise those with the scent in their dollar-obsessed noses. Fenway Sports Group and Todd Boehly are being intoxicated by the whiff of profit and the owners at Anfield and Stamford Bridge respectively are among the five investors who are reportedly being considered as US financial partners in the new order.
The word was, and still is, that the PGA Tour could go it alone with home investors and ditch Saudi Arabia. And with Tiger’s patronage they could get away with it. Cue a Saudi display of might. Tiger was ungettable, McIlroy, too, but Rahm – with maybe a nod to Spieth – is the next best thing. All bets are off. They have persuaded a legacy man to join them.
The PIF governor Al-Rumayyan is set to meet Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, next week and the scene should really be produced by Martin Scorcese. Monahan might have some billionaire venture capitalists in his pocket, but Al-Rumayyan not only has the $600 billion (£476.6m) PIF in his armoury, but also three of the last five major winners. It should be a weighty conversation.