Why these 3 players will prosper from Jon Rahm’s LIV Golf move

montage of Alex Smalley, Mackenzie Hughes and Carl Yuan on golf courses

Jon Rahm's decision to LIV Golf affected more than just the man himself.

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One player’s loss is another player’s gain in pro golf these days. And really, Jon Rahm’s loss (or gain, depending on how you view it) is many players’ gains.

At least when it comes to the FedEx Cup.

Rahm’s multi-year commitment to LIV Golf earned him an expedited suspension from the PGA Tour, according to a memo that was sent to Tour members Monday evening. That’s old news for anyone who has been following the discourse between the warring tours for the last two years. 

Despite ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf is still considered a tour non grata in the eyes of Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. Competing on it, or committing to it, is grounds for suspension, as LIV Golf is “a series of unauthorized tournaments.”

Since the Tour is now well versed in reacting to its players defecting, it swiftly jumped into action, suspending Rahm and notifying all other members that any player who were listed below Rahm in the 2023 FedEx Cup standings would now move up a spot. That was huge news for a few pros as they checked the standings and saw Rahm’s name wiped clean from the FedEx Cup slate.

Mackenzie Hughes ended his 2023 season a birdie or two short, ranked 51st in the FedEx Cup, and was thereby unofficially dubbed the first Mr. 51. He just narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2024 Signature Events, which will include the strongest fields in non-major events, with the biggest purses. Players’ earnings potential in Signature Events is largely double that of players who won’t be competing in those events. 

Hughes knew this all too well the last few months, and was forced to accept his fate. But Rahm’s departure changed Hughes from Mr. 51 to Mr. 50, boosting him into all the Signature Events for 2024. Suddenly, Hughes’ playing schedule has been completely changed, as he will now play in many more limited field, mega-purse events against the best players in the world. For a player in pursuit of his first Presidents Cup appearance, it’s a massive boost. And he’s not alone. 

Rahm’s decision also bumped up Alex Smalley from Mr. 61 to Mr. 60, which may not mean much to anyone else, but vaults Smalley into the second and third Signature Events for 2024, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Invitational. Smalley had just missed out on those invites when he finished one spot short during the first FedEx Cup Fall Series. As plenty of players inside the top 50 this year know, one or two great showings in a Signature Event can lock in your status for 2025. 

Lastly, the most important upgrade went to Carl Yuan, who moved from 126th to 125th, ensuring him full status on the PGA Tour for 2024. The difference there is hard to quantify, but we’ll try it here: 

When you finish outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup, but between 126th and 150th, you receive “conditional” status. You maintain some semblance of Tour membership, and you’ll be able to sign up for Tour events. That’s great! But you will get pushed down the priority list and even pushed out of tournaments if higher-ranking players sign up. That’s not-so-great. In fact, every graduate from the Korn Ferry Tour will automatically jump ahead of you in that pursuit of Tour starts. Conditional status often leads players to compete in other ways to earn their ticket into tournaments, such as Monday qualifying, requesting sponsor’s exemptions, etc. It’s a dog-eat-dog world for those on the lower end of Tour status. You’re going to end up playing a lot more of the lower-ranking tournaments, like the Puerto Rico Open or the Punta Cana Championship.

Yuan has now leapt up away from all of that. No, he won’t be playing Signature Events unless he plays his way into them via exemptions, but he’s about to find out how you can still carve out a fruitful and less stressful journey as Mr. 125 than you would as Mr. 126.

The 2024 season kicks off with the Sony Open in exactly one month.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.