What? Jon Rahm has jumped to LIV? Who woulda thunk it?
Certainly not me, at least not until the rumors of his signing dragged on long enough to make the actual event almost anticlimactic. This development made it emphatic that the Saudi-backed circuit is here to stay.
So, how big was it? Too big for it to be just considered a sports event.
Rahm, who is probably the best-paid athlete of 2023 now, bypassed the golf media to make his personal comments in a Fox News interview with Bret Baier, a veteran news anchor. No sports media were involved in this one.
Shortly after the Rahm signing was announced officials of the Wells Fargo Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s best events, announced that the tournament would be discontinued after its staging in 2024.
Just a coincidence that the Wells Fargo announcement came on the heels of the PGA Tour losing one of its biggest young stars? Just asking.
Until the 29-year-old reigning Masters champion took the jump the most significant LIV Golf League post season development was the trade of Talor Gooch, the circuit’s 2023 individual champion, from the RangeGoats to Smash. Within LIV circles that was huge. Imagine a Major League Baseball or National Basketball Association team trading its Most Valuable Player.
That’s how Smash captain Brooks Koepka saw it.
“There couldn’t have been a stronger offseason move for us,” said Koepka. “It goes from making us a contender to a juggernaut.”
The signing of Rahm could enhance LIV’s increasingly interesting team format. In addition to signing for – reportedly – somewhere between $400 and $600 million, Rahm also got his own team in the deal. So, who is Rahm bringing with him as teammates?
The LIV crowd takes the team competition seriously, as shown by other offseason moves. The 4Aces got Harold Varner III from the RangeGoats for Peter Uihlein. Koepka also revised his roster by adding Graeme McDowell, a former U.S. Open champion, before nabbing Gooch.
Of course, the reported Dec. 31 deadline for a framework settlement with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour is still out there, but player movement is more interesting now. So, who will go next?
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” he said. “I haven’t let anything marinate other than just playing, but I’m happy for Jon. He made the best decision he felt was right for his family and himself.”
Another Rahm friend, Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, was reportedly in negotiations with LIV. While his signing wouldn’t have nearly the impact of Rahm’s signing or Finau’s (if indeed it materializes), Hatton, currently ranked No. 12 in the world, was part of the victorious European Ryder Cup team.
The Ryder Cup is already a consideration with no less a LIV critic than Rory McIlroy quick to declare that the DP World Tour must change its rules. The DP World Tour ruled out the use of LIV players in the last Ryder Cup, meaning Rahm would be ineligible, but Euro captain Luke Donald may not have that problem in getting his next squad ready for the 2025 matches at New York’s Bethpage Black. The Euros will need Rahm.
It might a stretch at this point, but another PGA star – Patrick Cantlay – might also be a LIV candidate. He’s reportedly taken on a very active role on the PGA Tour policy board’s planning for the framework negotiations. If he doesn’t get his way, he might consider the LIV alternative and good friend Xander Schauffele could conceivably follow him.
LIV concluded its exciting Promotion event Sunday in Abu Dhabi with the winner, Kalle Samooja, giving the circuit its first player from Finland. LIV still has some loose ends to take care of before its third season tees off in February. The TV coverage needs an upgrade and three tournaments, including the two biggest ones at the end of the season, still don’t have sites lined up yet but the player roster is critical.
Given the offseason developments, especially the Rahm signing, there are likely more than a few PGA Tour players second-guessing themselves for not heading to the Saudi circuit sooner.
We’ll see how many take the plunge now.