After latest bombshell, one thing is clear: golf fans are losing

jon rahm and rory mcilroy laugh

Pro golf is in a ridiculously complex situation, and that was before Jon Rahm bolted to LIV Golf. Now? It's unequivocally worse off.

Getty Images

Jon Rahm jumped on a Zoom call donning a LIV Golf jacket, 18 months after he said he doesn’t see the appeal others do in the start-up league ripping through the golf world. In that June 2022 press conference he said $400 million wouldn’t change his lifestyle. On Thursday, he was announced as LIV’s new poster boy for a reported $300 million.

Rahm last June: “My heart is with the PGA Tour.”

Rahm on Thursday: “I’m forever grateful for the PGA Tour and the platform that they allow me to be on.”

Pro golf is in a ridiculously complex situation. And that was before the Rahm news. Now? It’s unequivocally worse.

Even before Rahm’s departure, the PGA Tour lost important star power to LIV Golf — Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau — and since then has essentially waved the white flag, electing to come to the table with LIV Golf instead of continuing to fight the battle. It’s understandable. The Public Investment Fund isn’t running out of money anytime soon, likely never, and the Tour, for as much money as the non-profit generates, can’t compete.

The PGA Tour’s tournament structure, already somewhat confusing with an ever-changing FedEx Cup format, has had to adjust too. To counter LIV’s threat, the Tour overhauled its tournament structure — first with Designated Events that became Signature Events — as it scrambles to get its top players more money and to play the same events more often. The elite players want more. The rank-and-file players think they deserve more. Others say the rank-and-file have benefited plenty.

“Men’s professional golf is in a sad place,” Mackenzie Hughes tweeted on Friday morning. “The direction it’s headed right now isn’t healthy or good for the sport. And I know many of you are upset with the recent developments — I would be too.”

Rory McIlroy, one of the Tour’s most important figures, left the policy board recently. Tiger Woods has joined to help save the Tour, but mostly has to do so from a swivel chair as his playing days are limited now. The Tour’s old, reliable Band-Aid of Woods’ play can’t put this thing back together.

Meanwhile, LIV Golf is struggling for TV ratings (which it rarely makes public), is promoting trades that make little sense and still consists of too many unknown pros teeing it up alongside a handful of players who make up the league’s promo posters.

Rahm going to LIV will help its popularity, sure, but how much? Ninety-nine percent of golf fans would agree that Rahm is a top-five player in the world, but how many non-LIV watchers will suddenly try to track down The CW channel now? He’s a talent, but he doesn’t necessarily make the league considerably more watchable. That’s always been LIV’s battle — how do you make people care about something that doesn’t have an established history and legacy?

The PGA Tour has that, and Rahm even referenced it in that famous June 2022 press conference.

“I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again. So I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world,” he said. “There’s meaning when you win the Memorial. There’s meaning when you win Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill. There’s a meaning when you win, LA, Torrey, some of the historic venues. That to me matters a lot.”

These are grown men who can make decisions for themselves regarding where they want to play and how often they want to do it and what kind of compensation they think they are worth for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s making the sport any better.

Jon rahm
Pro golf’s Player Empowerment Era is here. It will be messy 
By: Sean Zak

“It sucks for the game of golf, what is happening right now. Money can change everything. The divide in the professional game, it’s just not fun right now,” said former pro-turned-analyst Colt Knost, reacting to the Rahm news on SiriusXM radio on Thursday. “… To see possibly half of the best players in the world playing somewhere and half of the best playing another place, it’s not good. I never in my lifetime thought I’d see this happen to the PGA Tour and professional golf.”

The majors are the best we have. That’s always been the case, but it’s even more true now. Rahm won’t be back to defend his title at The Sentry next month, or the American Express, or the Genesis, which is Tiger’s event. Two of those three are Signature Events with the top players, but the fields instantly diluted now that Rahm has left. Our chances to see the best golfers on Earth, at the same time, is limited to four weeks a year. That’s it.

After the PGA Tour/DP World Tour/Saudi PIF merger plans were announced, Rahm was supposed to be a part of the PGA Tour’s solution — a star to build around. But his departure proves, despite a framework agreement, that there’s still little peace between the Tour and LIV. Maybe this is one last feather in the cap for LIV brass, the prying away of a two-time major champ that warns those across the table of the power it still wields. Or maybe Rahm knows something we don’t, that there’s a chance the two can and will work together in the near future. Maybe he gets a big check now, and he can still have the best of both worlds later?

For now, the tournaments you watch on weekends will be the ones that suffer. Golf is worse off with this division, but it’s possible Thursday was the tipping point. Can things possibly get worse? There may be a few more defections following Rahm, but it’s doubtful any will be as splashy. Here is the wake up call for the sport to come together.

A 2024 golf schedule is already set, but a Dec. 31 deadline looms on that framework agreement. Maybe some sort of world tour is on the horizon. Or perhaps an avenue for each league’s stars to play in the other’s marquee events. Thursday may end up being what was needed to seriously steer things in the right direction. Eventually, there will be a solution, but it can’t be the status quo. That simply won’t do. Golf fans deserve better.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.