The most important piece on the board in professional golf’s ongoing chess match now belongs to LIV Golf. Jon Rahm — two-time major winner, defending Masters champion, world No. 3 and Ryder Cup icon — will leave the PGA Tour and join LIV Golf starting in the 2024 season.
"I have officially joined LIV Golf," Rahm said Thursday evening in a Fox News appearance. "There's a lot of things that LIV Golf has to offer that were very, very enticing. Being part of a team is something that's been very big for me in my career."
Rumors of Rahm's departure had circulated for weeks, right around the time that Rahm withdrew from an indoor golf league planned by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. A non-denial denial then, and continued silence since, has fed the perception that Rahm would be accepting a mammoth offer to join LIV. When Rahm did not appear at a news conference to promote a PGA Tour event where he's the defending champion, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
The move of such a major player in golf's world order comes at a precipitous time for the sport. The PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, the financial backer of LIV Golf, are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to formalize an agreement, announced in June, that would end legal hostilities between the two and lay the foundation for the sport going forward. Rahm's leap to LIV could be seen as an act of aggression by LIV, although a do-not-poach agreement between the two leagues that was initially part of the agreement was scrapped. It's also a sign that the PIF is willing to invest heavily in LIV's future viability.
On a personal level, Rahm’s departure is a significant shock given how opposed he had been to both the riches and the format of LIV Golf in the past.
“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,” Rahm said in early 2022. “I have a lot of belief in [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan and the product that they’re going to give us in the future. There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”
Since then, however, Rahm has won the Masters — which gives him a permanent entry into Augusta, as well as several years of exemptions into the other majors — and the PGA Tour has stunned its players by securing a negotiated-in-secret agreement with LIV’s financial backers.
Rahm’s move to LIV also sets up a fascinating scenario involving the Official World Golf Rankings. LIV Golf tournaments currently do not receive ranking points for a variety of reasons, including their length, their lack of a mid-tournament cut, and the lack of a pathway for advancement or relegation. Already the rankings’ validity has come under scrutiny because of the low rankings of notable major winners like Cam Smith and Brooks Koepka; any “official” ranking system that does not have Rahm at the very top — he’s currently No. 3 in the world — will be incomplete at best and invalid at worst.
It’s almost impossible to overstate the seismic impact of this move on the fate of the PGA Tour. Outside of Woods and McIlroy, Rahm is the most important golfer on the planet, a charismatic ambassador of the game who also happens to be one of its finest players. Losing the 29-year-old Rahm means losing a player who is on a trajectory to dominate golf for the next decade, a player who appears to be the next link in a chain of golf history that leads from McIlroy to Woods to Nicklaus, Palmer and on back into history.
LIV Golf continues to make inroads on the international front, with more tournaments outside the U.S. in 2024 than in the series’ previous two seasons. Adding the Spanish-born Rahm to the mix will continue to establish and solidify the league’s presence beyond American borders.
Rahm’s arrival marks the most successful day in the two-year history of LIV Golf, and a reputational boost that would have taken LIV years to achieve on its own.