LIV Golf begins 2024 season with future at stake in merger talks

Reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm of <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Spain;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Spain</a> will be the new star of the LIV Golf League, which launches a third season this week unsure of where merger talks with the PGA Tour and LIV's Saudi backers will lead (EZRA SHAW)

Reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm will be LIV Golf's newest star when the Saudi-backed upstart series launches a third season on Friday as questions abound regarding its future.

LIV's 2024 campaign was in doubt since a framework merger agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) -- LIV Golf's financial backers -- was unveiled last June to controversy.

Talks have extended beyond a December 31 deadline to reach a deal bringing all sides together in a partnership, so in the meantime, both LIV and the PGA Tour sorted out a 2024 schedule, LIV keeping its $25 million, 54-hole event format with shotgun starts and individual and team titles.

While LIV's future relies more on top-secret talks, the present is focused on a 14-event campaign.

Adding to the pressure to complete the agreement were more defections to LIV, notably by Spanish star Rahm, ranked third in the world, in December and England's Tyrrell Hatton in January.

Rahm said the weeks before he went to LIV were difficult sorting out negotiations and the decision, then it was tough keeping quiet about it.

"It was nice to have some time after that before my first competition round in LIV Golf to process and then refocus and get to work," Rahm said Wednesday.

"I feel confident. I feel good. It's one of the odd parts. At this point I would have maybe already played three, four events, so it's getting used to that. I'm very used to having to grind a little bit more during Christmas and early in the year to start competing."

The PGA Tour said Wednesday that PIF talks have progressed but no deal has been finalized, so LIV enters its season opener at Mayakoba in Mexico uncertain what lies beyond.

The PGA Tour announced a deal Wednesday with Strategic Sports Group, a set of sports team owners, investing up to $3 billion into a for-profit equity company.

To PGA Tour Policy Board member Jordan Spieth, that makes a LIV deal vital only to reunite golf's elite talent, not for more funding.

"I don't think that it's needed," Spieth said. "The positive there is a unification. It would be a situation we should try to have, but I'm not sure if or how or when it would get done."

- 'Put down weapons' -

Such uncertainty regarding a future PGA-LIV deal has led to LIV staging events opposite PGA "signature" tournaments as both sides compete for fans while merger talks drag along.

"We're just going to continue down our own roads and how it all integrates and comes together is something to be seen," LIV's Bryson DeChambeau said.

"I hope at some point we'll come back together. It needs to happen. I hope people can just put down their weapons and come to the table and figure it out.

"As time goes on, I think things will settle down in a positive way for both."

With LIV players banned by the PGA Tour, major championships remain the only place where LIV and PGA stars compete against one another.

LIV Golf tournaments do not receive world golf ranking points, so fewer LIV players are reaching majors.

"At some point in time, the world ranking piece needs to be figured out," DeChambeau said. "We're some of the best players in the world that aren't getting points."

Poland's Adrian Meronk and Australian Lucas Herbert were named LIV's latest players on Wednesday.

Rahm was named captain of LIV Golf's new 13th team, Legion XIII, and joined by Hatton, Zimbabwe's Kieran Vincent and American Caleb Surratt.

Rahm, 2023 PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith of Australia are recent major winners with LIV.

American Talor Gooch won last year's LIV Golf season individual title while DeChambeau's Crushers squad will defend the season team crown.

Other LIV stops include next week in Las Vegas ahead of the NFL Super Bowl, Jeddah and Hong Kong in March, a Masters tuneup April 5-7 at Doral in Miami, Adelaide and Singapore in April plus Spain and England in July.