Jon Rahm sat in a room somewhere in New York, preparing to talk to more than a dozen reporters on a Zoom call at around 4:45 p.m. ET Thursday. There was a LIV Golf League backdrop behind him, as the Saudi Arabian-financed circuit was preparing to announce it had poached the No. 3-ranked golfer in the world from the rival PGA Tour.
It was a scene that would have seemed unfathomable in April, when Rahm seemed fully committed to the PGA Tour after claiming his second major championship at the Masters.
For more than a year, Rahm had voiced his dislike of LIV Golf's 54-hole tournaments, no cuts and shotgun starts, saying he preferred to remain with the PGA Tour, where legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods had played before him.
In the end, Rahm, a 29-year-old native of Spain, couldn't pass up a multiyear contract that is worth more than $300 million, according to sources, and includes partial ownership of his new LIV Golf team. Sources told ESPN that LIV Golf is recruiting other PGA Tour players to join Rahm's team; he declined to name whom they might be.
"This decision was for many reasons what I thought was best for me," Rahm said. "Don't get me wrong, it's a great deal. I had a really good offer in front of me, and it's one of the reasons why I took it, right? They really put me in a position where I had to think about it and I did."
Rahm said he knows he will be criticized by some golf fans for his sudden about-face. He said at least one of his sponsors, Callaway, said it would continue its relationship with him.
"Every decision I feel like we make in life, there [will] be somebody who agrees and likes it and somebody who doesn't," Rahm said. "I've made this decision because I believe it is the best for me and my family, and everybody I've been able to talk to has been really supportive of me. So I'm very comfortable with my decision.
"I'm no stranger to hearing some negative things on social media or [in the] media, so it's part of what it is. We're public figures, but just learn to deal with it, right? It certainly won't define who I am or change who I am, so I think with experience you just learn to deal with negativity a little bit better."
I am proud to join @livgolf_league and be part of something new that is bringing growth to the sport. I have no doubt that this is a great opportunity for me and my family and am very excited for the future. pic.twitter.com/myf4isJgJ3— Jon Rahm Rodriguez (@JonRahmpga) December 7, 2023
The PGA Tour released a statement later Thursday saying its focus remains on the tour and "unifying the game for our fans and players."
"We can't speak for decisions that any individual players might make but based on the momentum of the past season and strength of the PGA Tour, along with the accelerated interest from and negotiations with a number of outside investors, we are in position to make our players equity owners and further allow the tour to invest in our members, invest in our fans and continue to lead men's professional golf forward," the tour said in its statement.
Rahm's decision comes at a time when the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund are attempting to hammer out the final details of a framework agreement that would combine their commercial interests into a new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF, are scheduled to meet next week. The PIF has spent more than $3 billion funding the LIV Golf League the past two seasons. The framework agreement is set to expire Dec. 31; Monahan called the date a "firm deadline" last week.
The framework agreement gives Monahan authority to determine the future of LIV Golf, which has struggled to gain a foothold in the U.S. but has generated significant interest in Australia, Singapore, Spain and other countries. Sources told ESPN the future of LIV Golf and whether team golf has a place in the sport's future ecosystem have emerged as sticking points for the Saudis during negotiations.
It's unclear how Rahm's defection will impact the proposed alliance. LIV Golf's ability to poach a player of Rahm's caliber would seem to give the Saudis leverage in negotiations, as the PGA Tour is also entertaining offers from a handful of U.S.-based investors.
"I mean, a lot has happened in the game of golf and we've seen some steps towards the game coming together, and hopefully we can keep making those choices and those actions towards ending up in a better spot, which is mainly my goal as a golfer," Rahm said.
The June 6 framework agreement included a clause that prohibited both sides from attempting to poach each other's players, but it was removed after the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division raised concerns that it restricted competition.
Sources previously told ESPN that the PGA Tour could form a partnership with both the PIF and a U.S.-based equity firm because of concerns that a PIF-only deal would not be approved by federal regulators in the U.S. and abroad.
A conglomerate led by Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Penguins, is among the final potential bidders, sources told ESPN. So is Liberty Media Corp., which has ownership stakes in Formula One, Sirius XM and the Atlanta Braves, and Acorn Growth Cos., an Oklahoma City-based equity group that had previously focused on the aerospace and defense industries.
Rahm said his biggest concern was not being allowed to play in future Ryder Cups. He has played on the European team in each of the past three international competitions and seems to have as much passion for the event as his Spanish golfing idols, Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal.
Ryder Cup veterans such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood were ineligible for the European team in Italy this year because they had resigned their DP World Tour memberships. Sweden's Henrik Stenson was stripped of his captaincy after making the jump to LIV Golf.
Rahm said he didn't plan to resign from either the PGA Tour or DP World Tour. Monahan has suspended PGA Tour members who competed in LIV Golf tournaments without a conflicting-event release.
"My position with the Ryder Cup stands as it's always been," Rahm said. "I love the Ryder Cup. I've explained many times how meaningful it is to me, and I surely hope I can be in future editions of the Ryder Cup.
"That's not up to me right now, but if it was up to me, I'll be eligible to play, so I surely hope I can keep up the good golf, keep playing good golf and give them a reason to have me on the team. It's a big risk to take, but I've had it in consideration and, again, I'm hopeful that I can be part of the team again."
Rahm is the second reigning major championship winner to leave the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf League at the height of his career. In August 2022, Australia's Cameron Smith signed with LIV Golf about six weeks after he picked up his first major championship at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Links in Scotland.
Rahm won 11 times on the PGA Tour and collected more than $51.5 million in on-course earnings during his career. This past season, he won four times and pocketed about $16.5 million in purses. He is a finalist for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
In a statement, LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman called Rahm a "generational talent."
"There are very few athletes with his pedigree of talent, leadership, poise, and commitment to bringing progress to the sport on a worldwide stage," Norman said. "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."
Reigning LIV Golf individual champion Talor Gooch told ESPN that adding Rahm brings credibility to the upstart circuit.
"It makes all of the naysayers think a little bit about all of the doubts that have been made over the last couple of years," Gooch said. "It just continues to fight the narrative that there's not great players at LIV and all these guys are past their prime and so on and so forth. He's a guy that is probably just hitting his prime and that's been probably the best player in the last five years."
Rahm said the direction of the PGA Tour and its inability to finalize a deal with the PIF wasn't a factor in his decision.
"I'm forever grateful for the PGA Tour and the platform they've allowed me to be on," Rahm said. "I mean, I have nothing bad to say about them. They've given me the opportunity to play the game that I've always wanted to play and compete in some great events.
"This is just more about me and what I believe is best for my career, and like I said, my chance to maybe make a mark."
Rahm said he hopes golfers will one day be able to play on multiple tours and not have to choose sides.
"I surely hope for the future we can keep working towards making decisions that make golf better, right?" Rahm said. "That's my position. My position is to play golf. That's what I started to do, play golf to the best of my abilities and hopefully leave the game in a better position than I found it."