Two-time major champion Jon Rahm has joined LIV Golf on a mega deal that will rock the PGA Tour to its core in a move that has rocked the establishment.
LIV had already enticed Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith from the American circuit with huge pay days, but Rahm, the world No.3 and an immensely popular player among fans, is the biggest hit yet as the PGA Tour races the clock to finalise an agreement to ally with the Saudi-backed league,
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the Rahm defection, with ESPN and Sports Illustrated later confirming it before LIV officially released a press release on Thursday out of New York.
While overseas media valued the deal at $US600 million ($A914 million), ESPN said Rahm’s LIV contract is expected to be for more than three years and worth more than $US300 million ($A457 million).
The breakaway tour said Rahm would compete in the LIV Golf League beginning next season, which kicks off February 2-4, 2024, at LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico. “I am proud to join LIV Golf and be part of something new that is bringing growth to the sport,” said Rahm.
“I have no doubt that this is a great opportunity for me and my family and am very excited for the future.”
LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman is trumpeting the coup.
“When I first met Jon at the age of 17, I knew then that the golfing world was about to witness the birth of a new star,” Norman said.
“Jon has consistently validated that he is one of the top players in the world. He’s a generational talent who has proven his merit as a multiple major champion and tremendous ambassador for global golf by placing the game ahead of himself.”
“There are very few athletes with his pedigree of talent, leadership, poise, and commitment to bringing progress to the sport on a worldwide stage.
“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Jon to the LIV Golf family as the league continues preparations for a huge 2024 and beyond.”
Under the terms, LIV also will add a 13th team for Rahm to helm and give him an ownership stake, per ESPN, which added that LIV is recruiting PGA Tour players to add to Rahm’s team.
In June, the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia announced an agreement to join forces, and there’s a December 31 deadline to seal the deal.
How Rahm joining LIV’s roster will impact the alliance isn’t clear.
Rahm, 29, won the 2021 US Open and the 2023 Masters, two of his 11 PGA Tour victories. He completed his most successful season this year, winning four events.
The Spaniard, who also helped Team Europe win the Ryder Cup this fall, has career earnings on tour of $US51.5 million ($A78.5 million) since joining in 2016. His LIV contract would dwarf that amount.
Since the emergence of LIV Golf in 2022, Rahm has been one of the PGA Tour’s staunchest supporters and has spoken critically of LIV.
Perhaps with an eye towards joining LIV, however, Rahm recently pulled out of the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy-led TGL virtual golf league and had not committed to playing in January in the American Express in La Quinta, California, where he is the defending champion.
McIlroy said the move would force the European Tour’s hand, as the four-time major winner backed Rahm to continue playing in the Ryder Cup.
“It’s hard to sit here and criticise Jon because of what a great player he is and the experiences I’ve had with him,” McIlroy said. “All I’ll say is that I’ll be disappointed not to play against him more regularly in the future.
“Because of this decision, the European Tour are going to have to re-write the rules for Ryder Cup eligiblity. Absolutely, there’s no question about that. I certainly want Jon Rahm on the next Ryder Cup team.
“He’s such a good player. He’s got so much talent. He’s tenacious. He’s a great teammate on the Ryder Cup. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Jon. I respect the hell out of him as a golfer.
“The thing that I’ve realised is that you can’t judge someone for making a decision that they feel is the best thing for them. Is it disappointing for me? Yes, but the landscape of golf changed on June 6 when the free-market agreement was announced. It made the jump from PGA to LIV a little bit easier.”
Yet, social media was whipped into a frenzy, as many accused Rahm of hypocrisy after previously saying the tournament style didn’t suit him and that $400m wouldn’t change his life.
AAP with staff writers