Jon Rahm, LIV Golf and the PGA Tour merger deal: What’s happened and what comes next

Jon Rahm in his new LIV Golf kit
Jon Rahm shows off his new LIV Golf kit - AP/Scott Taetsch

John Rahm’s decision to sign with LIV, while heavily trailed, has sent shockwaves through golf. Not least because the Spaniard was always so adamant that he would not.

The loss of the reigning Masters champion and Ryder Cup star to the Saudi rebel league raises big questions about the PGA-LIV merger, about the Ryder Cup and whether the rules will need to be changed to accommodate one of Europe’s best players, and about the future of the game in general.

Here Telegraph Sport explains what is going on...

Why has Rahm joined LIV?

Rahm does not deny he has gone for the money. He caveats that by saying that he does not play golf for money per se, “but as a husband and as a father and family man, I have a duty to my family to give them the best opportunities and the most amount of resources possible”. The other reason Rahm stated for his defection was that he wanted to “grow the game of golf”. That claim is sure to divide opinion, and infuriate those who feel he he has betrayed his fellow PGA Tour loyalists. Rahm, though, can point to the betrayal of the PGA Tour back in the summer when it turned out they had been negotiating a merger with LIV behind the players’ backs.

Didn’t he say he would not?

He certainly did. Very emphatically. From setting out his stall early last year when he promised “this will be the one and only time I’ll talk about this” and declared his “fealty” to the PGA Tour, to his admission last June that he was not moving for the money because “I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again”, to his reaction in July this year when asked about rumours he might join LIV: “I laugh when people rumour me with LIV. I’ve never liked the format.” Rahm’s about-turn has been spectacular.

Is Rahm now banned from the PGA Tour?

Technically not. Rahm has already said he does not plan to resign from either the PGA Tour or DP World Tour, so he is still a PGA Tour member and push will only come to shove once he skips a PGA Tour event to play a LIV event. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has suspended PGA Tour members who have competed in LIV Golf tournaments without a conflicting-event release. The next LIV events take place in Mexico and Las Vegas in early February. But by that point there may well be a merger deal which will enable players to appear on both the PGA and LIV tours, or otherwise bring those two tours together.

What about the Ryder Cup?

As it stands, as soon as Rahm plays in a LIV event, he will be suspended by the DP World Tour and told to serve a 12-month ban and pay a £100,000 fine. This will prevent him from playing the four annual events on the DP World Tour to be eligible for Bethpage Black in 2025. Naturally this has caused some consternation, not least with fellow Team Europe superstar Rory McIlroy who says he believes the DP World Tour should change their rules to accommodate Rahm. The Northern Irishman did not say the same for Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia. But Rahm’s defection is a game-changer. The DP World Tour for its part says it will not be rushed into ripping up its Ryder Cup eligibility rules and will instead see where the merger negotiations go.

What’s happening with the merger deal?

A good question. The December 31 deadline is fast approaching and no one has the foggiest. The initial framework announcement that blindsided everyone in June set out a route by which the Saudis would invest in the PGA Tour, PIF chair Yasir Al-Rumayyan would be chair of the Tour and get a seat on the PGA Tour Policy Board, the PGA Tour commissioner would get to decide the fate of the Tour and LIV, and in return LIV would agree to drop all lawsuits against the Tour. Now? All bets are off. After the US Senate expressed concerns about the merger, it seems the PGA Tour started to look at US private equity as an alternative option, and LIV retaliated by signing the biggest star it could possibly have signed (only Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods could top Rahm). A crucial meeting takes place next week between Monahan and Al-Rumayyan which could decide the fate of the game.

Are any other players going to switch?

Jason Day has been mentioned in dispatches, as has Ryder Cup prospect Adrian Meronk, while American Tony Finau has also been linked. But anything could happen now. Patrick Cantlay, who is on the PGA Tour policy board, is known to have had conversations with LIV, and he could follow through with those conversations if he is unhappy with the direction of travel. Which he may well be. After all, with Rahm gone, the PGA Tour now has a diminished product to pitch to potential investors. It may have to go with LIV but not at the price which was agreed back in June, when LIV reportedly agreed a $1 billion-dollar ‘equalisation pool’ on top of a $2 billion PIF investment in the PGA Tour.