Jon Rahm to LIV Golf is the turning point the game (and PGA Tour) needs

John Rahm's LIV Golf move could reunite golf.

DP World Tour Championship - Day One
DP World Tour Championship - Day One / Andrew Redington/GettyImages

Naples FL - My plane was pulling into the runway at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport en route to the Grant Thornton Invitational when my phone exited Airplane Mode and began buzzing continuously. First with the news that Jon Rahm was officially joining LIV Golf; second with people reacting to the news.

Anyone with a finger hovering remotely near the pulse of the golf world knew that this was a rumored possibility -- or perhaps even likelihood -- for weeks. However, to see the concrete news, to see Jon Rahm on FOX News with a LIV Golf letterman jacket, to see the PGA Tour lose another of the top players in the world without question when there had, not too long ago, been some optimism that the sport's proverbial civil war might be subsiding soon.

And now this. Rahm is going to LIV Golf on a deal reportedly worth anywhere from "more than $300 million" to somewhere even in the $450-600 million range. There are no rumors any longer.

Rahm is the reigning Masters champion, an 11-time PGA Tour winner, a two-time major winner, the No. 3-ranked player in the OWGR, and only 29 years old. For as great as Phil Mickelson once was, for as supremely talented as Dustin Johnson was in his prime, there is no denying that this is the biggest move to LIV Golf since either Brooks Koepka -- which one could argue was only made more impactful in 2023 with his PGA Championship victory -- since Cam Smith's departure from the PGA Tour on the heels of winning The Open Championship at St. Andrews (over Rory McIlroy, no less).

One could argue that he is simply a different caliber of player than LIV Golf has ever signed.

That, in itself, would bring the shock value to an all-time high. However, it comes as an even more drastic jolt to the system that Rahm was vocally opposed to LIV Golf previously, perhaps most notably at the 2022 US Open when he expressed a distaste for the format and retorted that the money being offered wouldn't actually change his life that much:

"I consider the PGA Tour has done an amazing job giving us the best platform for us to perform. I do see the appeal that other people see towards the LIV Golf. I do see some of the – I’ll put this delicately – points or arguments they can make towards why they prefer it. To be honest, part of the (LIV) format is not really appealing to me. Shotgun three days to me is not a golf tournament, no cut. It’s that simple. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years. That’s what I want to see.

"Will our lifestyle change if I got $400 million? No, it will not change one bit. Truth be told, 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. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that.

"There’s meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. 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, right. After winning this past U.S. Open, only me and Tiger have won at Torrey Pines, and it’s a golf course that we like, making putts on the 18th hole. That’s a memory I’m going to have forever that not many people can say. My heart is with the PGA Tour. That’s all I can say."

So much for that.

Those comments just over a year before his move to LIV Golf, however, express something that's difficult to quantify otherwise. Golf's civil war between LIV and the PGA Tour is no longer a matter of constant "will they, won't they" regarding decisions on possible departures to the break-off tour. Rahm's decision creates a turning point in golf that will echo for decades in the sport.

Jon Rahm joining LIV Golf should and hopefully will wrought change for PGA Tour, golf

There were plenty of reactions from the golfing world, including many of Rahm's peers, to the Spaniard's decision to join LIV Golf. But perhaps none were as poignant as the remarks of one Rory McIlroy.

A longtime staunch defender of the PGA Tour and, for lack of a better term, an anti-LIV Golf champion, McIlroy had a measured reaction to Rahm's decision, particularly in its relation to the Ryder Cup. Because European greats like Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and others were forced to resign from the DP World Tour as a result of their decision to join LIV Golf, they also effectively threw away their chances to be part of another Ryder Cup team.

With Rahm's decision, however, McIlroy spoke about the need for the Ryder Cup to change its rules.

"Jon is gonna be at Bethpage in 2025," McIlroy told Jamie Weir of Sky Sports. "Because of this decision, the European Tour are going to have to rewrite the rules for Ryder Cup eligibility."

While Rory certainly has some inkling of selfish motivation for wanting a Top 5 player in the world on his side at the 2025 Ryder Cup for the European side, his point in this ultimately speaks to the potentially optimistic outlook for what Rahm's decision could wrought for the game of golf.

A fractured golf world, put simply, is good for no one -- not the players, not the fans, not the entities at hand. But it's a fractured golf world that we're currently living through right now. It's a divide between the PGA Tour, a longstanding organization that has tried to counterpunch with LIV Golf's largely successful attempts to upend the status quo in golf, and LIV.

However, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan's handling of these counterpunches and the Tour's measures to react or combat LIV Golf have been widely criticized by fans, analysts, and professionals alike. It's not an Evel Knievel-esque leap to make that Rahm's decision to leave the PGA Tour was at least somewhat related to Monahan's surprise announcement of the framework agreement with the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) on June 6 this year that caught players off guard, the lack of clarity on that deal as of December, or the current questions about funding the inflating purses on the PGA Tour.

When you look at the PGA Tour, though, Monahan and many involved have put forth a front of business-as-usual wherein things are going to be just fine. Rahm's departure will force them to drop that facade. It will force them to consider the reasons that he left -- beyond the $300-600 million monetary reasons -- and what is actually needed to close the divide and reunify the game of golf, most likely still with the PIF involved, and hopefully present a better product to fans as a result.

It's easy to look at Jon Rahm leaving for LIV Golf as the shot that starts the biggest battle yet between the breakoff tour and the PGA Tour. Ultimately, though, it might actually be the strike that finally ends golf's civil war, something everyone who loves the game either from outside it or within it should welcome.

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