After previously stating that he would not join the breakaway LIV Golf series, the recent news that Spaniard Jon Rahm would be switching from the PGA Tour to the Saudi-backed circuit in a deal worth $500 million shook the world of golf and has created further uncertainty over the future of the sport.
In June, it was announced that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf would end their long-running feud by joining forces to “unify the game of golf.” However, no official agreement has been signed and the parties remain in discussions over the details of the contract.
The Saudi Arabian side of the negotiations is being led by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund whose financial power is behind the LIV Golf league.
The news of Rahm’s move to LIV has disappointed many golf fans who feel that no matter what golfing success he achieves, he has damaged his legacy by leaving the PGA Tour for monstrous amounts of money after professing his allegiance and commitment to the tour on numerous occasions.
Capturing Rahm, arguably the sport’s best player, is undoubtedly LIV’s biggest coup. This will certainly reignite tensions between the tours as they battle for supremacy in golf.
Born in Barrika, Spain, Rahm has cemented himself as one of the biggest names in golf, winning two majors in the process. He became the first Spanish golfer to win the US Open in 2021 and is the current Master’s champion having won the tournament by four strokes ahead of Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson.
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Rahm was also a member of the victorious 2023 European team that defeated the Americans in the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Italy.
The European team won 16.5–11.5, which included Rahm putting in numerous world-class performances across the event which included a tie in his singles match against Scottie Scheffler.
As a Spaniard who has lived in the United States for over 10 years, he has become an incredibly marketable sportsman. Rahm has numerous endorsement deals with brands looking to associate with the golf star.
This year, he is estimated to receive $9.22 million from nine sponsorship deals. His most lucrative is a two-year agreement worth $12.6 million with golf equipment manufacturer Callaway which is serving as his cap and equipment supplier, while its apparel brand TravisMathew became his kit and footwear supplier.
His second most annually lucrative deal is with the business aviation company VistaJet, worth $1.7 million across the two-year length of the contract. Rahm is serving as a brand ambassador for the firm.
After his success in winning his first Masters title, it was announced that he would be signing a one-and-a-half-year deal with the Spanish bank Santander, worth $300,000 annually. The deal allows Santander to serve as Rahm’s sleeve sponsor.
It was no surprise to see the company partner with the Spanish-born star player as the bank continues to establish itself in the Americas. Rahm will be crucial to the bank in increasing its visibility in North America, where he plays most of his competitive golf.
Rahm’s move to LIV Golf opens the question of whether there will be a new wave of defections from the PGA Tour to LIV. After dramatically switching sides, Rahm is likely to be a captain of one of LIV Golf’s new teams, with places in his team to be filled.
LIV Golf will likely be offering many top PGA players lucrative contracts to join Rahm’s new team. Rahm’s defection has also raised concern about his availability for the 2025 Ryder Cup. Team Europe chose not to select any European LIV Golf defectors this year.
On the other hand, the American team did pick Brooks Koepka for their side. Rahm is a top talent and almost certainly will have to be selected for the next Ryder Cup. If he is allowed to play, will Team Europe also allow other European LIV players such as Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, and Lee Westwood to be selected?
Rahm’s move to LIV could increase the possibility of the PGA Tour and LIV merger collapsing, as LIV’s poaching of golf’s star players is sure to anger PGA Tour decision-makers.
PGA cooperation regarding a long-term framework with LIV Golf may end up being delayed. However, many would argue that capturing the best players in the game gives LIV all the leverage in future discussions, as fans will always want to watch the biggest players in the sport and Rahm stands at the top of that group.
Since the announcement of Rahm’s move to LIV, players on the PGA Tour have already demanded answers regarding the potential impact of capital tie-ups being discussed, saying they had been “kept entirely in the dark” about the organization’s future.
LIV Golf will be hoping that the arrival of Rahm will be key in improving their annual viewing figures. In March, LIV’s audience declined by 24% – from 537,000 average viewers in its opening competition broadcast in El Camaleón Golf Course, Mexico to 409,000 in its second event in Tucson, Arizona.
LIV would have identified Rahm as being a game changer to attract more golf fans to tune in to watch the league’s action.
Uncertainty over the future of professional golf still lingers with fear that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf relationship may have taken a drastic turn for the worse. The PGA Tour still has two of the sport’s biggest names, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, on its books.
This suggests the PGA Tour will continue to be a dominant force in golf, as those two players have substantial fanbases and attract big interest in every event they participate in.
For golf fans, it is highly desirable that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf eventually reach an official agreement. Nevertheless, they seem at loggerheads again, with LIV taking a more aggressive stance after the PGA drew back from some of its sanctions against LIV golfers in majors and the Ryder Cup.
Both organizations have a great deal at stake, but the PGA Tour does not have the financial resources to fight back against LIV contract offers, which through PIF are backed by the economic power of a major sovereign state.
For now, the PGA Tour does have advantages in spectator and viewer support, especially in North America. However, these will not win the day if too many top players walk away.
Pressure continues to mount on PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan from investors, fans, and players on the tour. Players have been very disgruntled about Monahan’s management of the LIV Golf situation.
If he fails to resolve the mess that golf is in, the PGA Tour membership could force him out of the door. Will we be any closer to golf’s most powerful organizations settling their relationship in 2024? Only time will tell.
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