LIV Golf peppered its social media accounts for days throughout December with self-congratulatory posts after it secured the signature of Jon Rahm. And for good reason.
The big man from Spain is the world No. 3, reigning Masters champion, 11-time winner on the PGA Tour and a blossoming international star. At the time, Rahm’s move amid the PGA Tour’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, LIV’s financial backers, was viewed as a momentous occasion for the league. Another jewel had been plucked from the Tour’s crown.
But over the last two months, like the football player who drops the ball in premature celebration before crossing into the endzone for a touchdown, LIV Golf has fumbled the signing of its best player to date and squandered an opportunity to take a much-needed step forward.
Still acting as rivals, LIV could have dominated the headlines in the PGA Tour’s brief offseason. Despite what certain fan accounts may lead you to believe online, LIV is still struggling to build a dedicated following. For the second consecutive year, the league has pushed the release of team rosters to the 11th hour. They could have sold merch and built fan excitement for teams and events. Instead, they dragged out the release of important information – the final two events of the 2024 season are still to be announced – and stalled any momentum it may have picked up from Rahm.
Imagine not knowing what team LeBron James would play for, or who would play alongside him, a week before the start of the NBA season. Imagine the NFL not announcing the dates for Week 17 games, or where the Super Bowl will be hosted, until the start of Week 1. You can’t build a following when fans don’t know simple aspects such as who’s playing on what team. LIV wants to be taken seriously but can’t get out of its own way.
With the PIF funding the operation, the league has long been criticized as a way for the Kingdom to sportswash its human rights record with guaranteed money and multi-million-dollar deals. Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist. PIF governor and LIV Golf chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan is also facing a potential $74 million lawsuit in Canadian court for allegedly “having carried out instructions” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with “malicious intent” of “harming, silencing and ultimately destroying” the family of an ex-intelligence chief.
When key details aren’t released promptly, and officials continue to miss their own pre-determined deadlines for announcements, the league looks more and more like what many outsiders perceive it to be: a calculated political maneuver.
Now more than ever LIV needs the golf to stand out. The framework agreement between the Tour, PIF and DP World Tour to create a for-profit entity, known as PGA Tour Enterprises, stated the PGA Tour would decide LIV’s future based on an “empirical data-driven evaluation” and that commissioner Jay Monahan and the board would “determine the ongoing plan and strategy. LIV officials, including Greg Norman himself, have pushed back on this notion.
Al-Rumayyan, the prospective chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises, loves the idea of team golf. Even though fans haven’t flocked to LIV just yet, the concept has proven to be successful at times, especially at the season-ending Team Championship. Expect some version of LIV or team golf to be part of the new entity if a deal is agreed on and then passed. If there’s no deal, it’s safe to assume LIV will venture on as is and continue to be a rock in the Tour’s shoe.
Like the rest of professional golf, LIV’s future is uncertain. Thanks to the extended deadline for negotiations, the league now has a few more months to prove its worth and status in the game. It’s not off to the best start.