Rahm to LIV timeline: From PGA TOUR 'fealty' to monster payday
The worst-kept secret in golf is now officially out, as Jon Rahm opted to leave the PGA TOUR and join LIV Golf ahead of the 2024 season.
The same guy who once pledged his "fealty" to the PGA TOUR and claimed the LIV format was "not a golf tournament" is jumping ship.
Outside of Rory McIlroy, Rahm arguably presented more on-the-record comments about loyalty to the PGA TOUR than any player. While he was always respectful and never judged players who left for LIV Golf, he was adamant on numerous occasions that the rival circuit wasn't what he was looking for.
While it's easy to point to the reported €450-million deal ($566 million USD) he's receiving for making the change as the reason - a figure higher than the entire PGA TOUR's prize purse from the past season - Rahm has also been clear he already is financially set for life and wouldn't be affected one way or the other with that influx of cash.
He's long been the apple of LIV Golf's eye due to his close affiliation to Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Rahm was coached by Mickelson's brother Tim at Arizona State and now shares the same agent as the six-time major winner. He also idolized Garcia growing up in Spain and formed a strong bond with the 2018 Masters champion. Despite all that, he still resisted making the move until now.
So what changed to make Rahm switch allegiances? Here's a look at the timeline of how he went from PGA TOUR loyalist to LIV Golf's biggest star.
February 2022 - Declares 'fealty' to TOUR
Shortly after Mickelson's explosive comments to journalist Alan Shipnuck about LIV Golf and the Saudi government, numerous PGA TOUR players were asked about the circuit at the 2022 Genesis Invitational in February. Rahm was quick to squash any rumors he might follow Mickelson.
"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 February 2022, according to Ryan Lavner of NBC Sports. "I'm a PAC member, and I have a lot of belief in (commissioner) Jay Monahan and the product they are going to give us in the future. 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."
Rahm acknowledged how lucrative a move to LIV could be but immediately made it clear he wasn't in golf only for a big paycheck.
"I think there's a lot more to play for besides just money on the PGA TOUR." the Spaniard said. "There's history. There's legacy. At the end of the day, I'm in this to win tournaments. I'm in this to play against the best in the world. That has a lot of value to it."
June 2022 - LIV's format 'not really appealing'
LIV Golf had officially begun by the time the U.S. Open rolled around in June 2022 with the inaugural London event going down the week before the golf world assembled at Brookline. The big rumor floating around at the time was Brooks Koepka being set to make the move. While he downplayed that during his press conference, several players were once again asked about the appeal of LIV Golf.
"To be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me. Shotgun three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut. It's that simple," Rahm said in the pre-tournament press conference, according to ASAP Sports. "I want to play against the best in the world in a format that's been going on for hundreds of years. That's what I want to see.
"There's meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There's meaning when you win Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill. There's a meaning when you win, L.A., Torrey, some of the historic venues. That to me matters a lot."
September 2022 - Shoots down internet rumor
Despite Rahm constantly shooting down speculation of a move to LIV, rumors persisted. He had some fun with one in particular, even thanking the user for the bump in the PGA TOUR's PIP standings for bringing more attention to him.
June 2023 - Framework agreement brings change in tone
The 2023 U.S. Open happened the week of June 12-18 in Los Angeles, beginning just six days after the June 6 announcement that turned the professional golf landscape on its head. It was that day when Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan went on CNBC to announce a framework agreement between the PGA TOUR and LIV Golf to form a new company and bring professional golf back together. This was done without the knowledge or consultation of any players on the TOUR - even top draws like Rahm, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm's tone seemed to shift slightly from that point on. He admitted he felt a sense of betrayal over how the framework agreement was negotiated behind closed doors.
"I think it gets to a point where you want to have faith in management, and I want to have faith that this is the best thing for all of us, but it's clear that's not the consensus," Rahm said, per ASAP Sports. "I think the general feeling is that a lot of people feel a bit of betrayal from management."
Rahm had always been adamant the PGA TOUR was the place for him, but his words here offered the first glimpse that he may be open to changing his mind.
"I'm in a very high state of privilege in this world. I can do what I want. I can do what I love for a living, "he said. "I have a blast every single day even though I get mad on the golf course every once in a while. When I start with that point of view, no matter what happens, I can only be thankful to what's going on. If things change, things change. I'm just - I'll have to adapt to the situation and will have to make some decisions on what's going on forward, and I'll make some decisions. At the end of the day, I'm still very privileged, whether the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf align or not, who plays and who likes who. It really doesn't matter."
While the comments from Rahm following the PGA TOUR-PIF announcement opened the door a crack on a potential move, he still sounded pretty firm in an August interview when asked about LIV.
"I laugh when people rumor me with LIV Golf," Rahm said, according to Joel Beall of Golf Digest. "I never liked the format. And I always have a good time with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia in the practice rounds of majors. Phil respects my decision, and I respect his. Mickelson has told me that I have no reason to go play for LIV, and he has told me that multiple times."
Rahm was one of the first four golfers to sign on with Tiger Woods and McIlroy's TGL indoor golf league but shockingly pulled out in early November before the first season. He cited time commitments as the reason, but it immediately led to increased speculation that a move to LIV was imminent.
The entire TGL debut season would be postponed just weeks later after a massive construction issue at the stadium in South Florida made it impossible to launch on time. The league is now set to begin in January 2025, but it's probably a safe bet that Rahm won't be involved.
The alarm bells reached a new level at the end of November with a report that Rahm was set to make the move. While this had previously been reported to no avail, the breadcrumbs leading up to this report certainly added some credibility.
Rahm had also been very quick to squash any speculation of a LIV move previously but was eerily silent after backing out of the TGL at the start of the month.
More swirling rumors only equaled continued silence from Rahm, and it seemed like it was a matter of "when" and not "if" he would join LIV Golf officially. The PGA TOUR's American Express Championship - won by Rahm last season - announced the headliners for its field in January, and the defending champion was noticeably absent.
James Corrigan of the Telegraph reported on Dec. 6 that the move was set to happen with a payout of up to €450 million. The following day, the Wall Street Journal, Golf Channel, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN all confirmed via sources that the decision was made and about to be announced.
And then came the announcement - on Fox News of all places. Rahm sat on the screen in a LIV letterman jacket and told Bret Baier he was joining the circuit.
Rahm admitted the money was certainly part of the decision but also cited growing the game globally and being part of a team as appealing aspects of LIV.
And so, 21 months after Rahm pledged his fealty to the PGA TOUR, he's officially made the move to join LIV. What this means for the merger talks between the TOUR and PIF remains to be seen, but it's probably a safe bet he wouldn't have made this decision without some form of assurance that he would remain Ryder Cup eligible.
While this may close the book on the Rahm chapter, it likely is just starting what should be a busy few weeks in professional golf. With the merger's framework negotiation deadline of Dec. 31 fast approaching, the race is on to get some form of agreement done and keep the current TOUR roster intact.
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